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A bright future is looming for the pier (image: HPWRT)

Countdown to pier decision

Government approval for the council’s proposed compulsory purchase of Hastings pier should be decided soon, and in November the Heritage Lottery Fund is due to rule on the application for funds to rebuild the pier. Well before the end of the year, then, the local community will know if the project to restore the pier is to be realised. The signs are looking good, Nick Terdre writes.

Follow this link to register your support for the pier.

Some wag –or is it misery-guts? – has added NOT to the poster saying EVERYONE LOVES THE PIER on the railings in front of the pier. The nay-sayers however appear to be in a small minority, and whatever their numbers, the issue is not up for debate any more – it’s happening.

Assuming that ownership of the pier is secured, and rebuilding funds made available, the pier – built in 1872 but closed since 2006 – could reopen in late 2014.

Three years ago the prospects were sombre. In October 2009 pier supporters marched on the town hall to voice their dissatisfaction with the council’s lack of commitment to the project. But the following year saw a turnaround – the incoming Labour administration gave its positive backing to the scheme, and the fire which caused widespread damage in October 2010 to this grade II listed structure also seems to have reinvigorated the campaign headed by Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust (HPWRT).

Two key events took place shortly after the fire: the council committed itself to securing a compulsory purchase order (CPO) to wrest ownership from the absentee owner, and the Heritage Lottery Fund took the project on board.

CPO update

The council expects a decision on the CPO from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport shortly. This might take the form of an outright yes or no, or of referral to a public inquiry, says Councillor Peter Chowney, lead member for regeneration. The owner, Panama registered Ravenclaw Investments, has made things easier by failing to respond to the notice of repairs sent to it by the council last year.

One objection was lodged when the CPO application was put out to public consultation, but, says Mr Chowney, this is known not to be material to the case. The lack of dispute makes it unlikely that a public inquiry will be called for.

Assuming that secretary of state Jeremy Hunt gives consent, the council will only exercise the CPO when HPWRT has completed its preparations for ownership. When the great day comes, the council will in fact own the pier only briefly – ownership will be immediately passed onto Hastings Pier Charity, which the trust is in the process of setting up for this purpose. The transfer, which will be free of charge or for a nominal sum, is unlikely to take place before next April.

The benefit of this project for the council is that it does not involve it in great expense. Its major outlay was the emergency work that had to be carried out following the fire in October 2010, which cost it around £60,000, according to Mr Chowney. This work was also aided by a grant of £100,000 from English Heritage for the stabilisation of the structure.

Simon Opie

Simon Opie wants your support.

New bid for funds

The lion’s share of funding for restoration is due to come from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Last year this body released £357,000 to finance the detailed planning for the project. One condition of the grant was the appointment of a chief executive officer to lead this work. This is Simon Opie, who came to Hastings from Disneyland Paris.

The next milestone is the application for the so-called round 2 funding, which is due to be submitted to HLF in early August. Here an overwhelming show of support from the public will demonstrate to HLF that this is a popular project. HPWRT has set up a button on its website where support can be registered. “If people want to support the pier, we are asking them to go and press the button and vote for it,” Mr Opie says.

HLF is due to announce its decision on 13 November. Assuming it makes funds available, the physical work of restoration should begin next April.

Some further fund-raising will be required – HLF will provide some £11 million of the total cost of restoration of £13.5 million. The balance will be sought from other sources of matching funding such as the social investment fund Communitybuilders and through regional funding – HPWRT is working with the council on two initiatives which would benefit the pier and other projects in Hastings. “And then there’s a proportion that we need to raise ourselves, both through sponsorship and benefactors,” says Mr Opie.

People’s Pier Cooperative

Yet another company will be set up to actually run the pier. This will be the People’s Pier Co-operative – to give it its working title – an industrial and provident society in which everyone may buy shares. And each shareholder, regardless of the size of their shareholding, will have one vote. Shares should go on sale early next year, so that the company itself can be launched around mid year.

There are two advantages to the choice of a coop to run the pier, says Mr Opie. One is the direct engagement of the people in the community with the fortunes of the pier, and the other is that the pier only needs to be profitable to the extent of ensuring its future – in other words, it doesn’t need to pay a dividend to the shareholders, as in a plc.

“The big trigger is to hear from the HLF,” says Mr Opie. “Once we’ve got the HLF committed, that gives us a tremendous springboard to get the various other initiatives that we’re working on in place.”

Pier currently

Ripe for restoration

Restoration plan

A two-phase plan has been drawn up to restore the pier and turn it into a successful attraction. Phase one is to get the pier back up and running and able to support itself. In this phase the substructure will be restored, the deck and balustrading rebuilt and the western pavilion, the only building which survived the fire substantially intact, rebuilt as a restaurant and bar. A new visitors’ centre will be built on the middle section – this will house the Heritage Learning Centre which is also a condition of the HLF funding.

Together with some other works, the pier will then be able to support a whole range of activities, with a seasonal programme ranging from a winter fair through to a circus and music festival. For the time being the pier head will be restored simply as a decked area, which will be used for events such as a summer funfair.

Further construction will take place in phase 2, including a mobile timber canopy and a mobile stage element, and the reinstatement of the landing stage on the east side. However, the funding currently being sought does not cover phase 2, which is expected to cost some £3-5 million.

The project has progressed well so far, not least due to the enthusiastic backing of the council. “The project wouldn’t be alive today without the council,” says Mr Opie, who with his staff of two works out of a room in the town hall provided by the council. “Both the administration and the officers have shown a huge level of commitment to it.”

Road to regeneration

For its part the council hopes the pier project will be the catalyst for further significant progress in Hastings’ regeneration. Following the successful establishment of a focus for new activity around the Jerwood Gallery and the Stade open space to the east, it wants to see the reactivated pier as another focus. Further developments are planned for the old White Rock baths and Bottle Alley, says Mr Chowney.

So the route ahead to the restoration and reopening of the pier is clear, and before the end of the year we will know if the project really will happen – the signs are bright.

 

More information on the pier restoration plans is available on the HPWRT website, which also has details of the trust’s recruitment drive for more HPC trustees.

Posted 12:28 Tuesday, Jul 24, 2012 In: Campaigns

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