Boycott the Pier in the Hope it Fails Again

By Kent Barker. Article first appeared in HIP in June 2018.

I never expected my investment to make a return. It was enough to be part of a community effort to save a historic artefact. There was the added bonus that as the regeneration took place I felt a sense of personal pride. And I could boast to friends that I owned Hastings Pier – or at any rate a small part of it.

So when the Hastings Pier Charity went into administration I was more fearful for the future than I was upset that I’d lost a hundred quid. I understood that we shareholders were now unsecured creditors and that any money that could be recovered would go to Heritage Lottery Fund who had invested some 14 million in the renovation. I hadn’t been unduly impressed by the way that the Hastings Pier Charity had run it and believed it needed many more attractions to entice visitors to spend money and help keep it going. But at least the charity ensured that it was owned by the community.

Which is why I am so incensed that the administrators have now sold it to this businessman Abid Gulzar. I’ve nothing against him personally. I’ve met him and he seemed pleasant enough – though if Eastbourne pier is his business model for Hastings it could be pretty tacky. No, what angers me is that the administrators seem to have completely by-passed the Friends of Hastings pier who had raised £470,000 of the half million that they were told was needed to make their bid viable.

But hang on just a minute. Gulzar has bought it for £50,000. The Friends had £450,000 on the table and available. How on earth does that make sense? It sounds like a complete stitch up to me. The administrators argue that it would need at least £1m investments to make it viable, but if the Friends crowd-funded nearly half that sum in just a few weeks, then surely they could raise the rest. Possibly by going back to the original shareholders and asking for a new investment. And this is the point. The sale to Gulzar means that my share certificate isn’t now worth the paper it’s written on. Had the friends taken it over, the shareholders would have remained in place – albeit with little prospect of any return.

As the Friends say, a “publicly owned asset that was created by £14 million of public investment has been sold off at a bargain price to a private investor … this cannot be right.”

And what are our elected representatives doing or saying about this travesty? Not a lot. Council leader Peter Chowney is ‘disappointed’. MP Amber Rudd is pleased free access seems to be ‘guaranteed’ and thinks that a meeting will ‘ensure community concerns (are) addressed.’ Well, take it from me, they won’t be – meeting or no. The people of Hastings have every right to be incandescent with anger over what’s happened and how they have been by-passed in favour of big business. The stink of cronyism hangs in the air and if the administrators were a public body I’d have thought that they could be judicially reviewed for their patently ‘unreasonable’ decision. The question remains whether I and my fellow shareholders have the locus – or could raise the money – to mount a legal challenge in the civil courts.

Perhaps Hastings’ best hope is to boycott the new Gulzar pier when it re-opens under his aegis. The Administrators say that the sale is subject to a reversion clause, giving Hastings rights over acquisition if it is sold again within two years. I hate to say it, but all we can do is hope it fails again.

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