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Hastings pier undergoing restoration in late 2014 (photo: John Cole).

Hastings pier undergoing restoration in late 2014; no bingo hall this time round (photo: John Cole).

Council loses appeal over pier compensation

Hastings Borough Council has lost its Supreme Court appeal against the ruling that it is liable to pay compensation for business losses suffered when it closed the pier for safety reasons in 2006. However, it says it “retains the moral high ground” after judges decided on a more sympathetic interpretation of the Building Act 1984. Nick Terdre reports.

The business which suffered losses was Stylus Sports, which ran the bingo hall and an amusement arcade on the pier. When it went into liquidation in 2011, its claim was bought by Manolete Partners, which specialises in insolvency litigation. In 2012 Manolete won a ruling that it was entitled to receive compensation in the Technology and Construction Court, a judgment which was upheld by the Court of Appeal a year later.

The real villain of the piece appears to be Ravenclaw Investments, the pier owner at that time. According to the press summary of the Supreme Court judgment, a structural engineering survey performed for Stylus in 2004 concluded that urgent work was required to the structure of the pier to prevent an unacceptable risk to the public; Ravenclaw took no action but nor did the council, until a section of tension cord fell from the pier in April 2006.

The council then attempted unsuccessfully to compel Ravenclaw to take action. In June that year a structural integrity report commissioned by the council recommended immediate restrictions on access to the pier. The pier was initially closed by the council using emergency powers, backed up by a court order which it obtained the following September.

In court the council argued that it was not liable to pay compensation as Stylus had committed breaches with respect to workplace safety and its duty of care towards visitors, which constituted a ‘default’ under the terms of the act. This defence was unanimously rejected by the five law lords hearing the appeal.

The council claims to hold the moral high ground because, as it says: “The Supreme Court recognised that the Building Act as interpreted by the ‘lower’ courts was too strict, and they have effectively widened the application of what ‘in default’ means. Although this might seem a technical point, it is an important one and one which will in future help councils faced with the same dilemma.

“The judgement also recognises that the council can argue that any compensation must take into account the fact that the pier was in a poor structural condition. We will robustly challenge any large compensation claims, we do not think that the taxpayers of Hastings should have to pay significant sums of public money when all we have ever done is act in the best interests of public safety.”

According to the press summary of the judgment, compensation is only due for the period from the date of the emergency closure of the pier to the issue of the court order – some three months. The amount of compensation – Manolete describes the claim as “multi million pound” – will be decided by an arbitrator. The council will presumably also be landed with a large bill for costs.

While no fault can be found with the council’s prompt action to ensure the safety of the public, its unsuccessful pursuit of the case through all three legal instances may raise questions about the quality of the legal advice it was given.


Posted 23:48 Wednesday, Jul 27, 2016 In: Home Ground


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  1. Nigel Inwood

    In my experience there is widespread ignorance of their own subject throughout the legal professions. This is due to poor teaching, general low standards of accountability, and downright poor cognitive ability (no doubt posing as ‘lack of time’).

    Through undergoing ‘torture by legal process’ with HBC a few years back (and winning, if anyone really ‘wins’), I know exactly who the main culprits are. But it would not be entirely fair to name them in public, because numerous other lawyers are just as bad. We are all human, and we all make mistakes.

    What is fair comment, I think, is that the real test of character comes when we are faced with our own mistakes. That applies to the officers concerned, and to the corporation as well.

    Another fair comment is to note that a number of our local officials make a habit of adopting a belligerent approach at an early stage (in my case in advance), on ‘moral grounds’ or for ‘policy reasons’ that turn out to be illusory.

    In my experience, officers and councillors when facing a problem consistently omit the step most reasonable people take: None of them can be bothered to pick up the phone and simply talk to their chosen opponent before becoming unwisely embroiled in dispute.

    Amber Rudd, to her great credit, actually talks to you when you run into a problem with government. So why cannot councillors and officers do that, rather than stretch it out for years and end up finally talking in Court?

    Comment by Nigel Inwood — Wednesday, Apr 5, 2017 @ 14:35

  2. ms. doubtfire

    All gone very quiet here hasn’t it? We should be kept informed of how much money this is going to cost the tax payers in this town…bit like the Aquila house purchase – how much did that cost us? Too much secrecy here now.

    Comment by ms. doubtfire — Tuesday, Sep 27, 2016 @ 10:51

  3. barney

    The most concerning aspect of this fiasco is the apparent determination of this council to persue a case when they had been advised by a reputable local lawyer not to do so. If the costs of this case were to come out of their own pockets maybe they would have thought twice about their cavalier approach. All costs and compensation will be borne by the public purse and WE NEED TO KNOW precisely WHO within the council advised Members on this one. It appears that millions of pounds will be forfeited in costs and compensation and this is scandalous. Little wonder our council tax increases each year.

    This won’t be the first time this council (left and right) have involved this town in expensive legal costs. But there again – it’s our money – so what do they care? This very slack approach has to stop before we are rendered bankrupt by this feckless administration.

    Comment by barney — Saturday, Jul 30, 2016 @ 09:10

  4. Heritage

    I hear some are blaming the Conservative Party for this fiasco. The ultimate blame needs to go to the council officers themselves who agreed in the first place to accept Ravenclaw a Panama registered company. Any offshore registered company is a risk at bet of times to do business with and even more so when they have just been incorporated as Ravenclaw was. Clearly no business acumen in the council not to question the validity of a company like this and require bond of some sort from them as a safety net.
    HBC were advise by the local lawyers Gaby Hardwicke not to pursue appeals but did they listen. Well of course not after all they don’t listen to their electorate do they.
    You have to really wonder where they got the legal advice to take this. What we need to know who in the council actually pushed this and agreed it to go to the Supreme Court.
    Like the Rocklands debacle ( while much smaller in contrast financially wise ) here we have another catastrophe that is going to cost the tax payers millions.
    One has to question the capabilities of this lot running the borough. If they were in business it would be bankrupt by now. But lucky for HBC they have the tax payer, government hand outs and other ways to keep the money rolling in.

    Comment by Heritage — Saturday, Jul 30, 2016 @ 07:59

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