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Pier of the Year in 2017 - what fate awaits Hastings pier this year? (Photo: Jim Breeds).

Pier of the Year in 2017 – but what fate awaits Hastings pier this year? (Photo: Jim Breeds).

The pier needs your support!

The Friends of Hastings Pier (FoHP) are urging all pier supporters to attend the public meeting called for Monday 23 April to make clear to administrators and stakeholders that there is mass backing for keeping the pier in community hands. Meanwhile a bid to bring Hastings Pier Charity out of administration has been submitted to the administrators. HOT’s Nick Terdre (also a member of FoHP) has been updated on the current state of the campaign by another member, Jim Breeds.

The Friends of Hastings Pier (FoHP) see the meeting at White Rock Theatre on Monday 23 April as a key opportunity for pier supporters and well-wishers to demonstrate the depth of feeling among ordinary people, in town and elsewhere, about the fate of the pier.

Having battled hard to have it compulsorily purchased from its absentee owner, and restored with the aid principally of an £11.4 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), it would now be a tragedy if the pier fell into private hands and the community were excluded from any say in how it should be run, says Jim, who has been closely involved in FoHP since it was formed – or reformed – in February.

Stakeholders have also been invited to the meeting but have found various reasons for declining. For the administrators, Adam Stephens and Finbarr O’Connell of Smith & Williamson, the date is not convenient, while both the local council and the HLF say they cannot be seen to be favouring any particular bidder. Some councillors are however expected to attend.

Friends of Hastings Pier Poster 300Calling all shareholders!

FoHP are concerned that they have only been able to contact a small number of the 3,000 plus community shareholders who raised some £600,000 towards the restoration of the pier. There are some 400 followers of the Friends’ Facebook page – not necessarily shareholders – and another 80 or so are registered on FoHP’s Loomio website – so that leaves a large number who are presumably unaware of the Friend’s re-appearance.

FoHP’s request to the administrators, who hold the only list of shareholders, to send them an email alerting them to the meeting was turned down, again on the grounds that the administrators would seem to be favouring the Friends at the expense of other bidders.

Local MP Amber Rudd has offered to take up the matter with the administrators. Jim says there would be no objection from FoHP if other bidders similarly wanted to contact the shareholders through the administrators.

Meanwhile posters have gone up around town to publicise the meeting, and coverage on BBC South East and other media has also drawn attention to it. If you can’t make the meeting, send a message of support to the Friends’ email address, Jim says.

During the meeting the Friends will provide an update on what has been happening in terms of the bid, the business plan, the application to have the pier redesignated as an asset of community value (also declined by the council), architect dRMM’s preliminary design of a weather-proof shelter for large-scale events, and so on. There will also be a Q&A session.

Election of spokespeople

In addition the meeting will be asked to elect four to six spokespeople to represent FoHP in meetings with the administrators (no dates have yet been fixed for these), stakeholders and contacts with the media. Nominations for these positions have been invited.

Design concept by architect dRMM of a weatherproof structure for large-scale events.

Design concept by architect dRMM of a weatherproof structure for large-scale events.

The administrators appeared sympathetic to FoHP’s position when they told HOT in January that their priority was to find a funder who would allow ownership of the pier to remain with Hastings Pier Charity – precisely what the Friends propose.

It remains to be seen whether they will put their money where their mouth is. They declined to tell HOT how many bids had been delivered or when they expected to announce which one they had chosen.

When it was put to them that their policy of even-handedness meant they should meet with FoHP, as they have met with other bidders, before coming to a decision, they gave no direct answer but reiterated that they were “very happy to respond to all offers and follow up with the respective interested parties, as and when required”.

The administrators do not have a totally free hand in deciding the fate of the pier; by dint of a fixed charge resulting from its large investment in the pier, HLF also has a say in the matter – they can veto any disposal plan proposed by the administrators.

FoHP bid

Having emerged as a player rather late in the day, FoHP was unable to prepare a fully funded bid by the deadline of 12 April; instead it has asked for a six-month period to complete this work. That takes us almost to November, which is when HLF funding to keep the pier in operation runs out.

The business plan is based on leaving ownership of the structure, including the present buildings, with HPC while appointing a commercial operator to run activities, paying a rent of £250,000 a year to HPC to cover maintenance and insurance costs.

A three-year transition period is envisaged to get such a scheme up and running, requiring funding of some £3 million, Jim says. That breaks down to £1.5m grant funding from sources such as HLF, £500,000 in private sponsorship from bodies such as the Foreshore Trust and Power to Change (which has already given a £10,000 grant to FoHP to get it up and running), £500,000 in loans and £500,000 in fresh shareholders’ equity.

Achieving the average spend per head per visit to piers in the UK of £2.83 for an annual number of visitors of 350,000 (the UK average is 480,000), would produce revenues of just under £1 million, sufficient to make the pier operation economic.

But a lot hangs on the upcoming meeting. “This meeting is crucial to our efforts to save the pier for the community,” says Jim, “So we’d like to encourage as many people as we can to come, or at least to send messages of support. We need to ensure that stakeholders are in no doubt that this is the People’s Pier and we want it to remain the People’s Pier!”

* * *

Public meeting convened by Friends of Hastings Pier Monday 23 April, White Rock Theatre. Meeting starts 7.30pm but attendees are invited for a preliminary coffee and chat on the pier at 6.30.

To join the Friends of Hastings Pier, send an email to friendsofhastingspier@gmail.com.

If you are a member interested in nominating yourself as a spokesperson, email the same address under the subject ‘spokespeople’, including your name, address, email, telephone number and a statement of up to 200 words on who you are and why you would like to be considered for the role by 9am on 22 April.

Posted 20:05 Tuesday, Apr 17, 2018 In: Grassroots


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