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The gates swing back and the pier is open again!

The gates swing back and the pier is open again!

The pier is back in business!

Today Hastings pier re-opened to the public following a £15 million process of restoration. It was a ‘soft’ opening, with the celebrations reserved for late May, by which time the first events – open-air film screenings – will have taken place. Nick Terdre reports.

Just ahead of 10am the gates were opened and the public was allowed back on the pier 10 years after it was closed down in 2006. There was no fanfare – this was what Hastings Pier Charity CEO Simon Opie called a ‘soft’ opening. The razzmatazz is being saved for the gala celebrations on Saturday 21 May when there will be big names, local worthies, speeches, Madness and much crashing of cymbals.

“But it’s great to have people here,” Simon said as the numbers began to swell. “It’s slightly surreal, things have gone almost exactly as planned. We wanted a gentle introduction.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANews of the big event, kept under wraps until yesterday, had not reached all quarters, but reasonable numbers of locals and foreign students arrived to see how the pier is shaping up under its new lease of life. The set-up is fairly minimalist, Simon agreed, consisting of some fairground amusements near the entrance, the old pavilion to the right, the only surviving structure from times of yore, now transformed into a restaurant-cum-coffee bar, some retail kiosks and the Deck, the large structure dominating the centre of the pier.

The wooden retail kiosks, which stand on either side, are all occupied by traders, according to Simon. While some observers, viewing them afar from the shore, have described them as garden sheds, with their black-painted sides and tops they are no doubt intended to recall the fishermen’s net sheds on the Stade.

On the viewing platform.

On the viewing platform.

The Deck, previously referred to as the Visitors’ Centre, is the only substantial new structure. It will house the Memories Room, for exploring the pier’s history, and the Birch Room, an educational hub named after the late Jeremy, which are expected to open to the public in mid May. In the meantime you can climb the steps to the upper level viewing platform and enjoy the views out over the sea and along the sea-front east and west. There will also be a cafe and shop here.

The sides of the Deck appear to undulate in and out, but this is an illusion created by the zigzag pattern in which the planks, themselves recovered from the old pier, are arranged.

Beyond the Deck towards the pier-head there is open space. The first events will take place here, when a screen will be erected and films shown after dark on 12-14 May. The Thursday night will see local film-maker Archie Lauchlan’s Re: A Pier, the story of the renovation. That will be followed by Steven Spielberg’s Jaws on the Friday and on the Saturday the latest in the Star Wars series, The Force Awakens, thought to be its first open-air screening. Fingers crossed for dry weather!

As the nights get lighter, the open-air cinema will have to be suspended from the end of May until some time in September/October. But this will be the spot for mass happenings, with a capacity for an audience of up to 2,500.

In the restaurant.

In the restaurant.

For the time being HPC envisages the pier opening between the hours of 10am and 10pm, but these times could be altered in the light of demand, Simon told HOT. In fact the minimalist approach is designed to provide flexibility – as the management identify the need for this or that, it will be brought in. In the fullness of time further permanent structures may be introduced. “From our perspective this is the responsible way to do it, we are a learning organisation,” Simon said.

HPC is sticking to its projection of attracting 330,000 visitors a year. If people are to return, the product needs to be varied. So, for example, the funfair amusements will stay until the end of July, after which they will be replaced by a circus big top.

The renovation project cost some £15 million, of which £9 million went on new materials to repair and replace parts of the substructure, deck and balustrades. A special mention has to be made of the smart decking, made of hard Ekki wood from renewable sources in West Africa. Another £1.5 million was spent on demolition and disposal, including the hire of the crane-barge brought in to remove the wreckage of the ballroom. Building the Deck and restoring the pavilion cost £2.5 million, while another £2 million went on activity costs, including personnel, heritage interpretation and insurance.

Today’s re-opening was a low-key but historic moment, and congratulations are due to Simon and his team at HPC, as well as the far-sighted folk of the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust who set in motion the process that has now restored the pier to the town.

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See also Feet on the pier at last!

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Posted 20:19 Wednesday, Apr 27, 2016 In: Home Ground

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