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The 'Deck' or visitor centre on Hastings Pier.

The ‘Deck’ or visitor centre on Hastings Pier.

Planners back slot machine proposal for central pier rooms

The central ‘Deck’/visitor centre building of Hastings Pier is fully recommended by HBC officers for conversion to two rooms full of fruit machines (‘slots’).  Why are legal and policy protections being ignored? Bernard McGinley tries to peer more closely into the matter.

The flexible interior space of the new Hastings Pier is proposed for many amusement arcade machines. The Hastings Borough Council (HBC) planning case reference is HS/FA/18/00896.

The Deck’s previous use as a function room and exhibition space (educational/social) is instead to make way for some revenue-raising:  

Change of use from internal visitor centre function room into a family entertainments centre (Sui Generis)

The HBC planning committee decision is to be made on Wednesday 1 May. The committee report however is none too accurate. Off-the-point ‘boilerplate’ from central planning advice is provided as filler, and platitudes and typoes from previous cases have been larded in. The number of objections is understated. The council’s administrative weakness extends to stating (in Section 5 c):

The Pier was not noted for a sense of space . . .

But this is nonsense, and misleading brassnecked nonsense too. Given the absence of buildings there, the pier is now noted for little else. That was why it was nicknamed ‘The Plank’.  See this from 2016.

Deck with cyclist‘Tourism function’

That Hastings Pier won the Stirling Prize 2017, awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), counts for nothing (euphemised as ‘little weight’) with the planners, who add in the next section

In addition, the Pier is visually prominent, therefore if it declines, it will be a visual blight to the town, which could potentially affect future inward investment and the town’s tourism function.

without seeing the connexion. Destroying the pier’s unique appeal is decline. ‘Slots’ are not strategy, and there are many machines nearby in White Rock, opposite the Source Park.  (As for ‘visual blight’, the council specialise in it.)

The committee report’s statement on objections, including

Information submitted with Planning Application is incorrect

is itself incorrect, as absent (and even contradictory) statements were also pointed out, such as the applicant’s repeated failures to complete the Heritage Statement. Obligatory requirements were ignored by the applicant, even after they had been pointed out to the council. These procedures can just be ignored by applicants therefore. Similarly the statement is false (in Section 22 of the application form) that the proposal involves no change of use. Yet this planning application (with more serious defects) gets validated. It is a persistent failing by the council.

The owner’s agent (misnamed by the planning department, who are really not good on detail) strangely claims that no internal works will be necessary to instal the gambling machines in the two rooms. This is highly unlikely, as the machines will need a lot of cabling to make them operational. The Deck building’s little kitchen is somehow to become a kiosk, and yet all of the pier is a listed building — so such a conversion would apparently be in breach of planning and listed building procedures.

deck 350If conversion of the rooms requires alteration works, then that should mean Listed Building Consent. Will the banks of ‘slots’ need a reconfigured electricity supply or a ventilation system? Probably, but the question is not addressed, as conveniently it is deemed to be not a planning matter but one for the Building Regs.

Significance

The Foreshore Trust as a ‘statutory consultee’ had nothing to say, confirming their reputation. The application drew over three dozen objections however, which is unusual. The council response remained the bullnecked same, which is not unusual. Objections are ignored while thin rationalisations are struggled for. The committee report states:

In addition, Policy CQ1 of the Development Management Plan aims to encourage development which will assist the further expansion of the area’s role as a centre for cultural and related leisure . . .

But here the proposal is doing the opposite, just as the the report’s invocation of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – Para 127 on ‘appropriate’ and ‘sympathetic’ ‘quality’, for instance – should mean resistance, renegotiation or refusal, rather than acceptance.

Para 193 of the NPPF, quoted in full in the committee report, is similarly, carelessly misinterpreted, as heritage assets can have significance beyond the letter of their designation, as the RIBA award shows.  (The pier was designated in 1976.)  To put it another way, the requirement is to assess the significance of the asset, not the significance of the designation.

The report’s assertion that

the change of use will not detrimentally affect the special interest of the Pier in terms of the reason for its listing

is both false and irrelevant, as the threatened damage to the pier is clear, and so are the requirements of the NPPF, which are here being ignored.

‘No net loss’

CQ stands for ‘Cultural Quarters’, and the pier is one. Policy CQ1 goes on to say that ‘proposals will be viewed in terms of their contribution to the mix and diversity of uses’, and also declares:

The Council will also take into account the effect of any development proposals on existing cultural activities and expect them to be protected or for there to be no net loss.

Losing two flexible spaces for two rooms full of slot machines is clearly such a loss, and therefore in contravention of the policy:  a clear reason for refusal of the application. There is a reminder of this loss of diversity where the application form answers the question (in Section 8) about the last use of the site:

THREE DAY EXHIBITION OF ART IN
THE FORM OF PAINTINGS & GLASS
SCULPTURES   “THE HASTINGS SHOW”

A pier with no venue buildings is a sorry enterprise, and also compromises the possibility of fair-weather events.

In the Hastings Planning Strategy 2011 – 2028 (adopted 19 February 2014), the council said (p56) in its preamble to Policy FA6, Strategic Policy for the Seafront:

Cultural opportunities

5.71   Following the opening of new cultural venues at The Stade Open Space, Stade Hall and Jerwood Gallery, we need to ensure the best use is made of existing venues, particularly along the Seafront.

Despite the clear requirements of process and the many reasonable objections about the quality (and policy-contradiction) of what is proposed, the report’s recommendation is ‘Grant Full Planning Permission’. The planning committee can be expected to conform, unless they’d care to think for themselves.

The reason (stated straightfacedly) for the recommendation is:

For the avoidance of doubt and in the interests of proper planning.

Yet again the planning department is doing its job badly.

Last summer

The pier has a need for revenue, just as it has a need for maintenance. The matter is touched on briefly at Section 5 c) of the report. Nowhere in the case papers is it discussed how these slots are going to begin to solve that problem. Last summer the new owner’s view was ‘I think there are enough slot-machines in the town’, while the council described the pier under new ownership as ‘a going concern’ (Hastings & St Leonards Observer, 22 June 2018).   The pier’s administrators wrote of the successful bid:

The bid . . . was able to best demonstrate the capacity to take the Pier forward. Overall, Mr Gulzar demonstrated the best immediate financial capability as well as the operational capacity and experience, including from running Eastbourne Pier. It is anticipated that significant cash for working capital and investment purposes, amounting to over a million pounds, would be required to make the pier sustainable.

‘Over a million pounds’ has not been spent on the pier by the new owner, who very clearly does not have it.  Did the administrators seek evidence of it? Were they not fully informed? Either way, this is a shabby business. What became of this ‘immediate financial capability’?

Further up the Deck building, there are new signs (on the café), and fixed speakers outside on three sides. Do these external alterations need Listed Building Consent?  An inquiry to the council weeks ago drew no response.

Posted 16:19 Monday, Apr 29, 2019 In: Home Ground

11 Comments

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  1. Ms.Doubtfire

    This article needs to be placed on the Front Page because it has come to light that the owner of the pier appears to have placed these gambling machines in more areas than the planning consent allowed.
    The council has been made aware of this but chooses to take no action.
    Not good enough.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Tuesday, Jul 2, 2019 @ 21:09

  2. Ms.Doubtfire

    It is getting worse by the day – huge tacky inappropriate signages appearing on the centre structure, tannoy systems affixed to the building…and more – and this is a listed building. None of these installations have received planning consent. And the planners up in Muriels Matters House seem pretty nonchalant about the situation. Appears they would prefer ‘dialogue’ with Mr. Gulzar rather than the appropriation enforcement action which open to be applied. What on earth is going on here? We have a toothless planning committee and a perverse planning department? Where is our Conservation Officer? Is she unaware of the situation? Either way it is not looking good for this town.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, May 17, 2019 @ 09:03

  3. kendal

    sorry i am passionate about this issue, as in 27 years as a voluntary supporter i’ve seen many voluntary community spirits crushed by councils through exploitation and disregard. i know the signs. but to Hastings & St Leonards’ credit – or maybe more to people’s indomitable spirit here, community spirit thrives like nowhere else i know of and this place is a gem and vibrant because of it.

    my comments are towards the planning committee, not the entire council, of course. As regards the pier owner, could you have a less suitable candidate for owning a public space, regenerated by public donations and a charitable cause? the council were keen to show their backing and take credit for that, were they not? this is only a perspective, but a common one. with other ventures (which have also had to be challenged) there seems to be broad inconsistency, (marina over muscle beds, coach park on the seafront, high-rise on park and green seafront space) or does it indicate an openness to any development? this has core implications for the way this community progresses or regresses and visual impact on the town and on people’s spirit.

    all the voluntary and inventiveness that affords this council their revenue from tourism and taxed hospitality and retail outlets, from all the festivals, comes from willing community minded artists and businesses, who could just as easily pull the plug in protest and return it to a doldrums. they choose this location. they lend it their energy and kudos – the council doesn’t provide it. this pier ‘business’ gets more disturbing as things ‘progress’ but i suppose someone official has to have the balls enough to investigate. i wonder, when they see ministers giving away millions in hard earned taxes, if this is just how business is done. that’s naive sarcasm in case your sense of humour is waning.

    thanks to HOT journalists – its interesting to get the finite lawful details we otherwise would be in the dark about. It’s a rarity for a UK community to have such an investigative and embracing local journal where people can also voice their concerns openly.

    And i have to look at Mr Gulzar’s cheap-kitsch dumbing down abominations every day. plastic and low maintenance. what a legacy for our intelligent children.

    Comment by kendal — Monday, May 6, 2019 @ 11:26

  4. kendal

    isn’t it wonderful to know the council planners see what can evidentially form or appease addictive behaviour and taking people’s money for it as a good thing for the community. at least the four existing arcades in the town are not occupying such a prominent and potentially inspirational space. And are those arcades doing good business? they always seem empty unless it’s a particularly busy weekend or school holiday.

    Comment by kendal — Monday, May 6, 2019 @ 10:22

  5. kendal

    It is transparent that any such communications with Mr Gulzar have proved inconsequential, what is more disturbing is his hard-faced refusal to honour his financial obligations to the slightest degree, even with staff. but hey ho – what is MOST disturbing is HBC seem intent to turn a blind eye to all of this when no one else is in any doubt. worse than this, repeated appeals to clean up what should be an attractive resort using systems that would enable recycling along the sea front instead of waste strewn across the road and paths and beach and promenade – are summarily also dismissed.

    when are HBC going to represent the community and their interests. seems to me they are no longer doing their jobs and are unfit for purpose.

    Comment by kendal — Monday, May 6, 2019 @ 10:11

  6. Bolshie

    Well this turned out to be another HBC planning application you would not have to ask a Psychic for an insight of the outcome. This whole scenario with this “Sheikh” has tones of history repeating itself when I think back to the deal HBC did with Ravenclaw. Just comparing the corporate set up behind it all. Albeit Ravenclaw was a company conveniently registered in Panama and legally untouchable, is what the Administrators have done for the future of this pier any better?
    Mr Gulzar’s visions for the pier are blurred to say the least and anything he is going to do will cost money. Something that confirms he is not exactly what I would call “flush” looking at his registered companies. Records at Companies house disclose he has seven finance Charges against five businesses. All these companies have failed to file annual returns for over a year. And two other companies are currently going through Insolvency for debt.
    So far this pier has no Charges on record – well yet anyway.
    Based upon this situation is there any wonder a slot machine arcade is one his ways to find a way to pay for the pier. Look out for wheelbarrows full of coins of the realm !

    Comment by Bolshie — Friday, May 3, 2019 @ 11:44

  7. Bernard McGinley

    The Planning Committee of 1 May was dire: Change of Use to ‘slots’ approved 6 – 1. (Cllr Cox was the exception.) The role of the Pier was not discussed or mentioned.

    There was no mention of HBC Planning Policy CQ1:
    The Council will also take into account the effect of any development proposals on existing cultural activities and expect them to be protected or for there to be no net loss.

    But there clearly was a net loss: of two large venues for exhibitions, weddings, concerts, performances, and gatherings of all kinds. How is that OK? (The possibility of conceding just one of the two rooms to ‘slots’ was never raised.)

    The repeated suggestion that it was just the Pier’s substructure that mattered was also wrong, as Par 193 of the National Planning Policy Framework shows. Listing a building is NOT about citation: it’s about the significance of the ‘heritage asset’. ALL of the Pier is Listed, and its significance as an asset – in national recognition for instance – can develop over time. Yet the Pier’s winning of the RIBA Stirling Prize for 2017 went unmentioned throughout the meeting, furiously ignored.

    One Cllr quoted the owner as saying:
    Nobody has a million pounds.

    Really? In June 2018 the Pier Administrators indicated very clearly that the new owner did, and they would have had a basis for saying so.
    So did the new owner mislead the Administrators, or did the Administrators not check properly? Is it all an unfortunate misunderstanding? Some clarification would help therefore.

    The Committee Chair even said of the Pier’s Deck building that ‘external appearance must be preserved’. Cheap signage and other uglification is already there.

    It’s so strange that HBC has so little civic pride. Most councils do, no matter what.

    Comment by Bernard McGinley — Thursday, May 2, 2019 @ 22:45

  8. Chris Hurrell

    Here is the audio recording of the Planning Committee deciding the change of use for arcades 1st May 2019

    The application was approved 6 to 1.

    https://soundcloud.com/chris-hurrell-229068096/pier-pc-cou-01052019

    Comment by Chris Hurrell — Thursday, May 2, 2019 @ 07:28

  9. jo lee

    What a shame! One would have hoped the new owner would take note of the boutique restaurants, shops and niche unusual and creative success enjoyed by reinventing run down areas all over the UK, to celebrate the wonderful and unique instead of the tacky and old hat. How backward thinking and frankly a recipe for financial disaster. Shame on the council and shame on the shortsighted owner. A wonderful opportunity will be squandered.

    Comment by jo lee — Wednesday, May 1, 2019 @ 23:28

  10. Mrs Clarkson

    Putting Hastings pier to such tacky and tastelesss use was surely not what was envisaged when it was built and awarded the Sterling prize. Does the new owner not realise that what is called for is something more enterprising and innovative otherwise the pier will just be yet another boring, run of the mill, arcade – and there are enough of them in Hastings.

    Comment by Mrs Clarkson — Wednesday, May 1, 2019 @ 13:42

  11. Ms.Doubtfire

    The council has allowed each and every planning application by the new owner to be approved. Without let or hindrance. It is becoming very clear that Hastings Borough Council wants nothing more to do with our pier – so long as someone else owns it, that is fine with them.
    It matters not that the last planning committee meeting seemed to be something of a Mad Hatters Tea Party with the applicant telling all and sundry all about his fine education at a top school in India plus other little snippets which had absolutely nothing to do with the presentation of his application…besides which it appears that the Chair of the Planning Committee is on close social terms with the applicant, an interest which was not declared at the meeting. (Maybe this is why he didn’t stop the applicant’s ramblings and tell him to stick to the point?)
    All in all a farcical situation and for anyone hoping that the latest application will be refused, I am afraid this ‘aint on the cards. I think the best we can hope for is for the pier to be a success and maybe we shall have to turn a blind eye to all that which causes offence.
    It is very clear that no matter the number of objections or the poor quality of the application this council is not going to refuse anything put forward and this is shameful indeed. And furthermore they appear reluctant to answer residents questions about recent installations on the pier. How this council ever got elected remains a mystery.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Monday, Apr 29, 2019 @ 18:53

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