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The pier on the day it reopened in April 2016. Friends of Hastings Pier's attempts to keep it in community hands now hang in the balance.

The pier on the day it reopened in April 2016. Friends of Hastings Pier’s attempts to keep it in community hands now hang in the balance.

Do-or-die time for the pier

The Friends of Hastings Pier (FoHP) have been told they need to prove their ability to raise at least £1 million by next Tuesday to remain in the bidding race. It’s do-or-die time for keeping the pier in community hands. Nick Terdre reports.

On Thursday GVA Grimley, the administrators’ agent for the sale, said that a decision on which bids would be accepted was imminent and the Friends needed to come up with proof that they could raise the necessary financing by Tuesday.

When it submitted its bid last week, FoHP had requested a six-month period to put funding in place. This proved to be wildly optimistic. The Friends’ plan involves keeping the current pier structure in community ownership and finding a commercial operator to run activities – a model used by Bournemouth and Cromer piers.

“The time has come for action,” Lesley Davis, one of the moving forces behind FoHP, told HOT. “We’ve got some fine plans but now we’ve got to show we can pull together the funding. If we all work together, it’s not impossible.

“So spread the word far and wide – the more people we can reach, the more pledges we can raise.”

Evidence of fundraising capacity required

The Friends understand that the administrators are happy to accept them as a potential owner but, whatever the merits of their business plan and commitment to community ownership, these need to be swiftly backed by concrete evidence of fundraising capacity.

All bidders have been asked to show that they can cover two years’ losses – at a rate of £50,000 a month, that amounts to £1.2 million. But if pledges for a substantial part of that sum can be gathered, the administrators may be willing to grant the Friends more time to complete the exercise, Lesley said.

However, any hopes of further assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund have been dashed by the news that no more monies will be forthcoming beyond the £600,000 funding provided to keep the pier in operation until November. FoHP had envisaged seeking a grant of £1.5 million from HLF towards the £3 million it considers necessary to bed in its business plan over a three-year period.

So far no one has seen fit to engage with the community shareholders, who according to FoHP number just short of 5,000. In their plan the Friends proposed going to the shareholders to raise a further £500,000 – that works out at £100 per head. By the same token £200 per shareholder would raise £1 million – by no means an unrealistic prospect.

The stumbling block is that only the administrators hold a list of shareholders and so far they have refused to circulate a message to them on the Friends’ behalf, arguing that by doing so they would be seen to be favouring one bidder over the others.

Catch 22

For the Friends it’s a Catch 22 situation – the shareholders are the very people who would probably be most interested in helping solve the funding challenge, and yet access to them is being denied. And if other bidders wanted to send a message to the shareholders, they would have no objection.

FoHP members and pier supporters in general are being asked to pledge what they can to help towards the fundraising. Pledges can be delivered to the FoHP email address under the subject ‘Pledge.’ Alternatively pledges can be delivered at the public meeting arranged for 7.30pm on Monday 23rd at the White Rock Theatre. If enough pledges can be secured, a crowdfunding page will be set up.

Meanwhile as much publicity as possible is being sought to maximise the number of pledges and – who knows! – even flush out a wealthy benefactor who can help the Friends in their hour of need.

The support of local businesses would also be welcome, though previous experience indicates they tend to commit to the cause when it is up and running rather than in the early stages, Lesley recalls.

If a sale is arranged to one of the other bidders, the pier will return to private hands. The number and identity of other bidders is not known, though it is believed they include the owner of Eastbourne pier and possibly the owner of Brighton pier.

 

Article amended by Nick Terdre on 21 April.

Posted 13:04 Friday, Apr 20, 2018 In: Grassroots

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