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Discussing how best to secure the pier as a community asset.

Discussing how best to secure the pier as a community asset.

Friends of Hastings Pier regroup

A people’s movement to save the People’s Pier has been launched. The overriding priority for the new Friends of Hastings Pier is to ensure that the pier remains in community hands. HOT’s Nick Terdre, himself a supporter of the campaign, reports.

The decision to revive the movement, which was first set up to rescue the pier from the clutches of the negligent Ravenclaw, came following a meeting at the White Rock Theatre on Saturday 3 February which, considering the short notice and limited publicity, was remarkably well attended, with the best part of 70 people.

Many were from the ranks of the community shareholders in Hastings Pier Charity who collectively raised nearly £500,000 towards the cost of bringing the pier back to life; others were supporters keen not to lose the pier.

There are some 5,000 shareholders, and probably a similarly large number of supporters (many would-be shareholders were deterred by the minimum £100 subscription), so the new Friends could potentially be a mass movement.

The meeting was moderated by community activist, Jess Steele, who reminded us that the original Friends played an active part in helping to raise around £14 million towards the cost of restoration, the lion’s share of which came of course from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Differing legal opinions

The new Friends even have some money – a £10,000 grant from Power to Change to help us over the first stages. That has paid for advice from specialist legal firm Wrigleys – in fact they provided two conflicting opinions, firstly that even though the pier is in administration, the shareholders still have decision-making powers, and secondly that the shareholders’ decision-making powers ceased when administrators were appointed.

That’s a bit confusing, but it reflects the novelty of the situation. Another restored community asset, Unity Hall in Wakefield, finds itself in the same situation, Jess points out.

meeting 300The Friends will draw up a manifesto and enter into contact with the administrators with the aim of establishing a cooperative working relationship with them. How warmly they will welcome us remains to be seen, but they have made it clear that their preferred solution is not to offload the pier onto a buyer, but to find a funder to put the pier back on its financial feet while leaving ownership with Hastings Pier Charity.

This is a key point for the Friends – there was consensus at the meeting that the freehold of the pier should remain in community hands, while an investor should be sought to establish a commercial operation. They would then pay the owner an annual rent sufficient to cover maintenance and insurance. A report is expected shortly from engineer Ramboll on the 10-year maintenance needs.

One big advantage for the Friends is that the Heritage Lottery Fund is in favour of a shareholder initiative – and any deal proposed by the administrators has to be approved by the fund by virtue of a fixed charge it holds which renders it the main creditor.

And according to Jess, if the administrators were to propose a sale, shareholders could call for a six-month moratorium to allow time to raise the funds to put in our own bid.

Shareholders also made it clear that their priority was not to get their money back (in fact they are not creditors in the eyes of the administrators) but if there were some way to get their investment working to secure an acceptable future for the pier, that would be fine.

There was also consensus that there should be no charge for going on the pier, except in special circumstances such as a blockbuster event.

Weather-proofing events

In any prospective partnership with an operator, the Friends would have to be satisfied that the proposed business plan were viable. One key element in achieving viability, as Hastings Pier Charity also concluded in their failed rescue plan, is some kind of structure to weather-proof events. Since the pier reopened in April 2016, several events have had to be cancelled due to adverse weather, with a calamitous toll on takings.

This proposed structure could form part of a bid by Hastings Borough Council for funds from the Coastal Communities Fund.

Present at the meeting was a representative of dRMM, the architect behind the restoration project, who said they would be happy to offer design services for free.

The meeting was insistent that we should look forward rather than back, but there are lessons to be learnt from what has gone wrong. The board of Hastings Pier Charity kept shareholders pretty much in the dark about how badly the pier was doing until late in the day. So it was agreed that the way forward should involve greater financial transparency.

A fairer approach to traders is also needed – those who were involved in trader activities said the contracts were so onerous they left little margin for making money and at least one trader ended up going bankrupt.

So what happens next? Join up and spread the word – the more Friends the stronger the movement. There is a need for volunteers and for fundraising. A Friday afternoon meeting for those interested in getting involved has been launched, at Jess’s instigation. Her report on the first meeting last Friday (9 Feb) should be posted on the website soon.

It was also agreed that once we have a mass movement going, we should aim for a big meeting, possibly in May, at which representatives and spokespeople can be elected.

And Thursday 14 June has been mooted as a possible date for a community day on the pier to celebrate what has been achieved so far. We’re all pulling together – so get on board and help increase our strength and influence.
To join Friends of Hastings Pier, follow this link.

Friends of Hastings Pier Loomio page and Facebook page.

 

Posted 16:25 Wednesday, Feb 14, 2018 In: Grassroots

4 Comments


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  1. Ms.Doubtfire

    I have been reading an interesting litle booklet all about the English Seaside in Victorian and Edwardian Times by John Hannavy…of particular interest is the piece on Hastings Pier. There is a paragraph which informs us that the town’s 900 foot long pier was opened in 1872 “complete with covered walkways – despite the town’s claim to have a gentle climate”. So even then the architects of this wonderful structure acknowledged the fact that visitors to the pier required some protection from the elements. ‘Nuff said.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, Feb 16, 2018 @ 09:15

  2. DAR

    PRIORITY 1 – “weatherproofing”. The best structure would be SOLID so as not to be at the mercy of destructive winds. Some rickety, tarpaulin-type affair will not do.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Feb 15, 2018 @ 14:37

  3. Ms.Doubtfire

    Confusing information here – do shareholders have any decision making powers or did this cease once the administrators were appointed?
    Surely there has to be a clear cut answer to this legal situation. This urgently requires definitive legal clarification.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Thursday, Feb 15, 2018 @ 08:59

  4. colin Foy

    A good article that keeps us up to date in the area.

    Comment by colin Foy — Thursday, Feb 15, 2018 @ 05:45

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