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Alex de Rijke slams approval for arcades on prize-winning Hastings pier

Hastingsjimstephenson16 webcrop
  • 5 Comments

dRMM co-founder Alex de Rijke has hit out at moves to turn education and interpretation spaces on the practice’s Stirling Prize-winning revamp of Hastings Pier into an amusement arcade

The architect said the plans to give over half of the attraction’s 396m2 visitor centre to slot machines was ‘inviting children to learn to gamble in the dark’.

Controversial pier owner Abid Gulzar last week secured planning consent from Hastings Borough Council for the conversion of the building into a ‘family entertainments centre’ despite receiving more than 30 letters of objection.


The rejuvenated seaside attraction was hailed as an exemplar of community-focused regeneration when it scooped British architecture’s most prestigious award in 2017.

But tensions have been escalating since Gulzar – nicknamed Goldfinger because of his penchant for the precious metal – bought the asset from administrators last year.

Shortly after installing mini gold hippopotamuses on its wooden walkway, Gulzar closed the pier for several months over the winter.

De Rijke has previously said that the practice’s cherished redesign of the pier was based on replacing an ‘outdated amusement arcade model’ with the principle of community-owned public space.

He told the AJ this week: ‘Hastings Pier Visitor Centre was paid for by Heritage Lottery, whose criteria was that the building be used for education.

‘The building is all about space, light, views and social inspiration. Its conversion to slot machine arcades is inviting children to learn to gamble in the dark.

Facebook users voiced their dismay at the plans.

‘Gulzar has no imagination and can only think of installing what piers have been used for in the past,’ said one. ‘Victorian tearoom next I suppose.’

Another added: ‘I’m so fed up about this. The pier is so beautiful and he all he wants to put on it is tacky stuff that belongs in the 70s.’

No objections to the arcade plans were received from Historic England, Natural England or the council’s conservation officer. But 34 local objection letters were received along with two of support.

Planning officers recommended approval and councillors voted in favour.

In an interview with the Guardian earlier this year, while the pier was closed for repairs and improvements, Gulzar hit out at residents who, he said, wanted ‘everything for free’.

‘I will make sure this pier will be one of the best,’ he said. ‘The most important thing is to get on with this work. I will do everything right. I love Hastings, it’s one of the best seafronts, but it should improve.’

  • 5 Comments

Readers' comments (5)

  • Good the currently pair is crap as there is nothing to do bring back the arcades bring more stuff for people to do as the pier is crap with out it

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  • the design and social ambition of the pier in its refurbished form is obviously fantastic and has been highly awarded however for some reason it is not financially sustainable. The 2p machines and seaside tradition of silly arcade games etc. has been around since the Victorian times and architects risk coming across as patronising and aloof by suggest that somehow a design is above such low brow culture. Everything is temporary and piers rely on footfall - its a means to an end.

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  • Simon Armstrong is a fully formed - and educated - human being (as far as I know), so is he trying to be sarcastic?

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  • I live in Hastings and visit the Pier most days as I walk between home and work. I can’t disagree that Mr Gulzar has questionable taste, and that makes him an easy target in features like this and on social media where he takes a constant pounding. The upside is that since Mr Gulzar owned the Pier many more people go on it and no further public money has been spent on it. The Pier had been losing £10k + a week whilst in community ownership, any losses are now his and to a degree you have to respect how he chooses to lose his own money whilst we can still go on it for free.
    What is unfortunate is that people constantly focus negatively on Mr Gulzar and how he runs the “award winning pier” without questioning the award itself. Nobody seems to want to write about how a building and structure that cost £12.5m of lottery funding and further millions of stakeholder funding and other grants went bust so quickly and yet won an award. Surely this is the story?
    From the moment the Pier re-opened it was only a matter of time before it went bust because there was simply too few revenue streams to cover costs of something like £700k a year (around £200k of that insurance). A small capacity restaurant and bar was the only building regularly open, but even this closed at dusk because there was no exterior lighting! In bright sun, rain or wind there was no shelter at all so people couldn’t sit on the deck. The smaller bar remained closed much of the time due to the additional staff required and the internal spaces for education and community use remained largely unused as they don’t seem to fulfill any purpose outside of ticking a box on the Lottery application form.
    The Pier reopened with an events based strategy and the large expanse of deck was to allow all manner of events to take place. Yes this deck looks stunning and played a large part in winning the Stirling Prize but a little research would tell you that events on the end of the Pier are often subject to cancellation due to adverse weather. Even the latest Pier Jam event last week was cancelled due to strong winds when averaging around 10mph. So is this good design, let alone great design, when doomed to fail?
    The Stirling prize will not do Hastings Pier any favours. It suggests that the Pier is beyond criticism and that all future problems lay with it’s operators, whoever they are. But when it was sold last year there wasn’t a rush to buy it. Whether purchased by Mr Gulzar, the Community bid or others it was given a value of somewhere between £1 and £100,000. That’s not a reflection of how much it cost to refurbish, or the fact that it's won an award but an accurate valuation on it’s potential as a business, basically it’s a lame duck. An award winning lame duck.

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  • Philip’s post occupancy evaluation makes a great read. Always thought the prize was a little premature.

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