dRMM’s Stirling Prize-winning Hastings Pier has unexpectedly closed for more than two months for ‘essential repairs and improvements’ .
The attraction – which was hailed as an exemplar of community-focused and funded regeneration when it scooped the prestigious award in 2017 – was shut to the public shortly after Christmas and will not reopen until March.
The pier has had a troubled history. A month after the project won the Stirling Prize, the charity that owned the pier went into administration.
A campaign to keep the structure in public ownership ultimately failed when it was sold to Sheikh Abid Gulzar – a businessman dubbed ’Goldfinger’ – last summer.
In a recent interview on local news Gulzar blamed ’safety’ issues for the closure, stating that there had been a small fire in the restaurant possibly caused by electrical problems.
A statement on the pier’s Facebook site dated 29 December 2018 said: ‘Hastings Pier will remain closed until March 2019 to allow time for essential repairs and improvements to be carried out.’
The statement said planning permission had been sought for five retail and catering units and the introduction of traditional pier arcade machines.
It continues: ‘It is essential for the future success of the pier that revenue streams are increased as this will also offer additional employment opportunities for local residents.
‘It is expected that this work can be carried out in the early part of 2019,’ it said, adding that the structure would eventually ‘become one of the very best piers in the UK’.
A petition launched to reopen the pier immediately has already gathered more than 1,100 signatures (as of 3 January).
Started by campaigner Aran Macdermott, the petition states: ’The people of Hastings rebuilt the award-winning pier after years of decay then were denied the right to keep ownership of it when it went into administration.’
Among a raft of comments alongside the signatures to the petition, Gill Russell said it was ’very, very sad to have this beautifully restored pier closed to the people that paid for it’.
Amanda Layzell added: ’My friend has a plaque on the pier dedicated to her dad and she should be able to go see it any time. Piers are part of our cultural heritage and [should] be like public footpaths: protected, free and open for all.’
Campaign group Friends of Hastings Pier said in a statement on Facebook: ’In principle the pier should be kept open as much as possible for community use and benefit, and we are keen to know that any necessary works will be carried out with no delays – we have heard stories of those who wished to visit memorial plaques of loved ones over the Christmas holidays and were very disappointed not to be able to.
’We would also like [Gulzar] to share more details on the ongoing maintenance programmes – any evaluations that he has had carried out and schedules for ongoing maintenance and repairs, including the 10-year maintenance plan put into place prior to the sale of the pier.’
Dan Matthews, formerly of the Hastings Pier Charity, said: ’Gulzar owns Hastings Pier and can do with it what he chooses without obligation to discuss his decisions with the community.
’This kind of thing is precisely what we expected to happen when administrators Smith & Williamson and the Heritage Lottery Fund granted ownership to a private individual with no additional measures to protect the pier for the community.’
Hastings MP Amber Rudd said on Twitter that the closure of the pier was ‘disappointing’ but she added that it was ’essential that the work is done’.
’I’ll be having an early meeting with [the] owners to ensure there is really urgency getting [the] pier reopened,’ she added.
When the pier won the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2017, the judges praised the scheme for its grass roots interaction and engagement with the residents of Hastings. The citation read: ’This project shows that local communities working with architects can make a huge difference.
‘Councils across the country should take inspiration from Hastings Pier, and open their eyes to the unique assets that can be created when such collaborations take place.’
Both dRMM and the RIBA have been contacted for comment.
James Chang of Friends of Hastings Pier
Hastings Pier won the RIBA prize because of the unique way in which it combined inspiring design with its purpose as a community space and cornerstone of regeneration. It is as much the lack of the engagement with the community over the closure, as well as the impact on the town’s economy and wellbeing that betrays this vision of Hastings Pier.
As Friends of Hastings Pier we feel we have a responsibility to ensure the community role of the Pier is not forgotten, as well as to watch over its proper maintenance to ensure that generations to come can enjoy this beautiful space. We hope that the owner will learn to work with us.
Just spent a long weekend in #Hastings only to find the pier shut. Apparently it's been sold off post administration. How can a @heritagelottery funded community project end up in private hands? @AmberRuddHR #hastingscouncil— Mike Pattenden (@MikePattenden) January 1, 2019