WITH rebuilding work to start over the coming months, reporter Hannah Collisson took a tour of Hastings Pier with project engineer Peter Wheeler to get a closer look.
There may not be much activity obvious to the casual passer-by, but behind the scenes work is well underway, and there is a clear vision of the pier’s future.
A walkway has been constructed, making the length of the pier accessible for the first time since the devastating fire of 2010. This has made it possible for the team to better assess the condition of the structure, and also to carry out surveys including 3-D mapping using lasers.
Project engineer Peter Wheeler said: “It wasn’t until we flew a drone over the pier in August that we realised how bad the damage to the deck was, and it was quite a surprise. But in some ways the fire has actually done us a little bit of a favour because it’s cleared the structure and we can look underneath it now.
“One of the problems that we face is that there is a column that has collapsed underneath the parade extension, and that has got to be put back in situ so that the deck is able to take the weight of the machinery, which we need to start rebuilding the whole of the pier.
Mr Wheeler appealed to the public to heed warnings not to walk beneath the pier for their own safety, while work is ongoing.
“One of the ambitions is to take away the destroyed ballroom as quickly as possible, as it is an eyesore,” he added. “The best way of doing it is to build a new structure as we go, so we can get the machinery out there. We hope to be out there by about mid-February.”
The scale of the project becomes apparent walking out along the pier from the shore. Below our feet the majority of the deck is gone, and some of the metal structure underneath is buckled and twisted. A surviving wooden bench facing out to sea, and an unopened beer barrel suspended in the wreckage of the ballroom, are symbols of what was and what could be in the future.
Even among the destruction, it is impossible to ignore the potential for beauty, especially on a crisp autumn morning, with sunshine casting both the pier, and the coastline of Hastings and St Leonards, stretching away in the distance, in a flattering light.
Mr Wheeler said: “There is a lot of thought that has gone into what should happen with the pier. The concept is to make it a modern pier - the pier has been evolving over 150 years or so.”
From Eugenius Birch’s original structure of the 19th century, Hastings Pier has grown and changed over the decades, prompted by the various challenges it has faced; the original ballroom was destroyed in a fire in 1917, and during the Second World War, the middle section was removed to prevent the pier being used as a landing stage by the enemy.
The heritage of the Grade II listed pier is an important aspect of the renovation project.
Mr Wheeler said: “The original Birch pier is a fascinating structure. We are trying to preserve and record as much as possible, so that we have a real sense of history about the pier
In its new incarnation set to open to the public in 2015, Hastings Pier will initially offer a teaching restaurant, a modern visitors centre, and significantly, once the deck is repaired, a huge amount of open space - a “public park above the sea” - a flexible space in which the programme of events on which the future of the pier rests will take place.
The community hub at the White Rock Baths will be the go-to place for all pier-related information, once work gets underway, with films, talks and educational projects to engage the public. Webcams will also be tracking the progress of the rebuilding work.