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The peir's owner is seeking planning permission for the ice cream shop, which was installed without permission, and four new kiosks.

The pier’s owner is seeking planning permission for the ice cream shop, which was installed without permission, and four new kiosks.

Pier friends opt for new role

Nearly six months on since the pier passed into private hands, the Friends of Hastings Pier have decided they still want to be involved in helping to ensure the pier’s long-term future. They would like to cultivate a constructive relationship with the new owner but also to perform a watchdog function over matters such as maintenance which are essential to the survival of the iconic structure. Nick Terdre reports.

In early December, despite the disappointment provoked by the administrators’ decision to sideline the Friends of Hastings Pier’s bid, some 100 people squeezed themselves into the sea-front room at White Rock Hotel for a meeting testimony to the town’s appetite for continued community involvement in the pier.

With two of the original elected representatives – Jess Steele and Adam Wide – stepping down, it was also necessary to find other members to work alongside the remaining spokespersons, James Chang and Lesley Davis. A dozen volunteered and will meet with Chang and Davis in the New Year to decide their roles in taking FoHP forward.

Hastings Borough Council has agreed to reregister the pier as an assset of community value, having refused to do so when it was in administration. This means that in the event that the new owner, Sheikh Abid Gulzar, decides to offload it, any sale will be subject to a six-month moratorium during which the Friends can mount a bid. However, it does not mean that their bid would have preferred status.

As representatives of the community, the Friends have long said they would like to build a constructive relationship with Gulzar. For his part he has so far refused to meet with them, despite the best efforts of interlocutors such as Des Wilson to persuade him.

“Positive and constructive meeting”

However Chang recently had what he called a “a positive and constructive, albeit informal,” meeting with Brett McLean, a close professional adviser of Gulzar. “We both want to ensure the pier’s longevity and we plan to meet again in the New Year,” he told HOT. ”Both our groups want to make sure the pier is around for generations to come and enjoy.

“At the meeting, an issue was raised that some IT equipment had been left behind by the digital archivists on the pier and Brett offered to help the people who ran the memories room to retrieve their server from storage. I gather that this has now been done and thank Brett for helping making it happen.

“Part of FoHP’s role is to act as a watchdog, so we want to engage with Mr Gulzar and hope that he listens to our concerns. This is not to say we won’t be critical, if there are things which are not right, then we will highlight them, like the on-going essential maintenance and the problem with the leaking sewage pipes that are a cause for real concern.

“However we should also highlight when good things are done, like for example putting out the deckchairs to provide more seating and the free cinema which was sponsored by a local business.

“We need transparency on their part, we want them to tell people what they are planning to do so that we are reassured the pier is maintained and the long-term vision for the pier is in keeping with the symbol of regeneration that the pier has become both locally and nationally.”

Planning application

The pier was closed for around 10 days in early December following a fire in the restaurant.

The pier was closed for around 10 days in early December following a fire in the restaurant.

The owner has lodged an application for developing the pier which, although receiving the support of Kevin Boorman, the council’s marketing and major projects manager, has not been well received by FoHP members. The application is for five kiosks – one of which, the ice cream shop, has already been installed without permission – which Gulzar is reported as saying will house food outlets, a gift shop and traditional arcade machines.

A petition with 79 signatures, predominantly FoHP members, claims that the development will harm the heritage asset and that the small temporary structures proposed are unlikely to raise the necessary revenues to ensure the pier’s commercial viability. The lead petitioner, Steve Wilkins of FoHP, will have the right to address the planning committee when it considers the application, at earliest in January.

Whether Gulzar has further plans for boosting pier income is unknown.

The question of maintenance is one which is already requiring FoHP’s attention in its self-appointed watchdog role, as became clear during their meeting. According to Peter Wheeler, head of the team which oversaw the restoration of the pier on behalf of Hastings Pier Charity and was then responsible for maintenance after it reopened in 2016, an efficient maintenance operation, including the regular replacement of parts of the substructure damaged by the sea, generates an annual bill of some £70,000 – but that is far preferable to the bill that would eventually accrue if such action were neglected. In the last four months, he said, only £395 had been spent on maintenance.

Wheeler’s three-strong team was transferred, along with other HPC employees, to the new Hastings Lions Pier management following the sale of the pier. One has since resigned and the other two have now ceased work on the pier due to stress problems – it became impossible to work there, he said.

Legal action

The engineers have instituted legal action against the management. A Crowdfunding campaign to help with costs has raised over £5,000. Among the reasons given for the dispute on the Crowdfunding page, they refer to Gulzar’s “refusal to pay for safety inspections or for new materials to maintain the structural integrity of the Pier.”

During meetings with the administrators FoHP representatives had asked for the conditions of sale to include the requirement for an annual report to HBC on the state of maintenance of the pier, but the administrators declined to do so.

At the Friends’ meeting Wheeler also reported signs of a campaign of sabotage against the pier. On separate occasions the navigation light at the end of the pier has been put out of action (and has yet to be repaired), the toilets have been damaged and caps on the sewage pipe running under the pier have been removed, allowing sewage to escape.

Campaign in Parliament

Meanwhile FoHP has taken its campaign for reform of the law applying to community assets which pass into administration to Parliament. At present, as happened in the case of the pier, a community asset is treated like any commercial asset under the terms of the Insolvency Act, which also overrides the rights of community groups granted under the Localism Act.

The working of the Localism Act, now five years old, is being reviewed by the select committee for communities and local government headed by Labour MP Clive Betts. According to Chang, the work is running late because of Parliament’s preoccupation with Brexit. It is expected that the pier will serve as one example of the need for strengthening the hand of community groups in such circumstances.
The writer is a member of Friends of Hastings Pier.

Posted 10:24 Wednesday, Dec 19, 2018 In: Grassroots

9 Comments


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  1. Bolshie

    Good point there Mrs Doubtfire about the navigation light that is of course extremely important.
    Looking at the image for this article it would appear to me Gold Hippo’s are more important. What on earth have these got to do with the seaside pier. The word “Tacky” springs to mind

    Comment by Bolshie — Sunday, Jan 6, 2019 @ 08:45

  2. Ms.Doubtfire

    It is a very serious offence if it is true that the navigation light at the end of the pier is non functioning. It is not up to the owner of the pier to decide whether to repair this important light. It must never be allowed to fail. Doesn’t this man understand the importance of the navigation light? His arrogance seems to know no bounds.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, Jan 4, 2019 @ 13:52

  3. Bernard McGinley

    The Pier has been closed again, without any adequate explanation, apparently till March (but why not April?). Hardly a going concern.

    ‘The Times’ on New Year’s Day (p7) had this report:
    https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/new-owner-closes-14m-historic-pier-qmf0brskx

    The new owner was said to be a well-heeled and professional operator. Clearly he is neither. But the proposals for garden sheds on the Pier, and the low quality of the applications, had already shown that.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Tuesday, Jan 1, 2019 @ 20:00

  4. Bolshie

    This whole pier issue has for me got a bit like Brexit, you get rather sick of keep hearing about it.
    Having said that what I would like to know why HBC steered well clear of it and were not prepared to offer some financial support to this apparent important structure. After all they were part responsible in my opinion for its demise with the fire after handing it over to that ominous Panamanian registered company Ravenclaw. Who it would seem scooped up a few million while they had their “claws” on it.
    After all they have been out property shopping and spent around £24 million on four properties

    Comment by Bolshie — Monday, Dec 31, 2018 @ 16:27

  5. Bea

    Thank you JB for expressing a different point of view. The personal attacks on Gulzar and McClean must stop, and so must the acts of sabotage mentioned in the article (but not commented on – does that mean Nick Terdre quite likes the idea?)
    I agree that Gulzar might not be ideal but at least he is successfully running Eastbourne Pier and you should give him a break so that he can keep Hastings Pier as a going concern with new initiatives. You might hate plastic animals and painting things gold but the kids love it.

    Comment by Bea — Friday, Dec 21, 2018 @ 10:34

  6. Truth of Hastings

    Hastings Borough Council did not ‘refuse’ to reregister the pier as an asset of community value in the administration, it was not permitted under insolvency legislation and the moratorium surrounding the company in administration. Get your facts right.

    Comment by Truth of Hastings — Thursday, Dec 20, 2018 @ 12:44

  7. ALison

    Fab report- thank you. And thank you for what you all do.

    Comment by ALison — Thursday, Dec 20, 2018 @ 09:21

  8. Cath

    Great article Nick

    Comment by Cath — Thursday, Dec 20, 2018 @ 08:43

  9. J B KNIGHT

    This is “Tactics”

    Applying for Community Asset Status to ensure personal involvement and interference by “Friends of Hastings Pier” and to interfere if the current owner ever wants to sell it on.

    I am sure their declaration is to be a pain in the arse and butt of any movement or direction the owners wish or need to make. a continual spanner in the works. So maybe after being thwarted enough and having any possible ability to make Hastings Pier a financial success shot down by our dear friends Gulzar might have to sell it on.

    Gulzar is not my prime choice as owner, but between Gulzar and Friends of Hastings Pier its like Laurel and Hardy Farce or Baloo the Bear and the Monkeys.

    Its a tactic to keep their grip on it.

    Most people want the owner to just GET ON WITH IT! and make it a viable concern that we all could be proud of. Gulzar inherited a lot of the current problems, yet it is painted these did not exist before.

    The pier needs closed structures where businesses and visitors can go and something for adults, families and children to do. A lot of businesses and jobs went when the pier was closed.

    With it being closed in poor weather it is not just visitors who are inconvenienced but any businesses or staff working on the pier. Businesses lose money and who pays the staff for that time off, and who would want to work on the pier with no promise of consistent work or income.

    Where we are is a direct consequence of the decisions Friend of Hastings Pier made before. Cannot all be blamed on Gulzar.

    The Watchers need Watching

    And seeing as Brett McClean has been so considerate, agreeable and thoughtful maybe some can get off his back and stop being petty selfish spiteful schoolyard bullies to him.

    He may not be a Lord, but at least his name is real unlike some who’s name is Fake and does not exist anywhere in Births Marriages and Deaths but is central to Hastings left and Solidarity concerns.

    Comment by J B KNIGHT — Wednesday, Dec 19, 2018 @ 23:15

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