Approximately 200 people queued outside the gates of Hastings Pier to show their love for the popular attraction.
The demonstration, called If You Love The Pier Then Join The Queue, took place on Saturday morning (January 12) and welcomed a crowd of around 200 to 250 people.
It was organised by a group of residents who said they were not happy with Sheikh Abid Gulzar’s decision to close Hastings Pier until March for ‘essential repairs’ following a fire.
Steve Wilkins, one of the organisers, said: “The event was incredible. It couldn’t have gone any better. We made our point in a decent, peaceful way. Exactly as we had hoped. “The queue was full of people of all ages including families and dog walkers. A perfect representation of the cross section of people who enjoy the pier.
“The meeting with myself, Amber Rudd and Mr Gulzar went very well, on the whole and I think I managed to get across what we, the community wanted.
“I explained that if the problem is in the pavilion, then simply keep that closed for repairs and open the rest of the pier. Amber was very receptive to this idea and spoke to me afterwards about it. She said she was going to push this idea with Mr Gulzar.
“So myself and the other organisers could not be happier as to how it went.”
Mr Gulzar was joined at the event by the leader of Hastings Borough Council Peter Chowney and Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd.
Mr Gulzar said: “I was delighted to meet so many passionate people who came out to support Hastings Pier today.
“It was a great opportunity to meet local residents, local councillors including the leader of the council councillor Peter Chowney and finally the local MP the Rt. Hon. Amber Rudd.
“Today’s meeting outside the pier demonstrated support from people who are clearly looking forward to the pier reopening before Easter.”
Answering questions from concerned residents, Mr Gulzar said he would never implement a general admission charge for Hastings Pier.
He added he wanted Hastings and Eastbourne piers to be ‘the pride of our nation’.
Residents taking part in Saturday’s demonstration met at 10.30am before proceeding to Hastings Pier led by a local band.
At 11am, the crowd formed a single-file queue outside the locked gates before the crowd dispersed at approximately 11.30am.
Organisers of Saturday’s queue said it was an opportunity to celebrate all the former pier employees of 2018.
They said they wished to show their love for the pier ‘as an asset for the local community’.
Mr Gulzar added: “I have always considered the opinions of Eastbourne and Hastings residents important and will not be happy until residents are satisfied.
“It is my objective that the end result is to make both piers the pride of our nation.
“I am pleased to note the support received today from the MP and councillors from both the Labour and Conservative parties.
“I love Hastings and Eastbourne very much and only want the best for both towns. My vision for the piers are achievable and this is the result I want which is two of the best piers in the United Kingdom.”
What has the council said about Hastings Pier?
Peter Chowney, the leader of Hastings Borough Council, was present at Saturday’s demonstration and reminded Mr Gulzar that Hastings Pier is a Grade II listed structure and ‘that he should work closely with council planning staff to make sure he put in all the right planning and listed building consent applications in advance, rather than retrospectively’.
He added: “I asked him to provide the council with a full list of the repairs that made it necessary to close the pier, so we could be reassured that none of the maintenance and repair issues could result in the pier becoming a dangerous structure. I also said that he should reach out more to local people, and share his plans and ideas with them.
“I was concerned though about his accusations that I’d refused to meet him. I have had two meetings with him since he took on ownership of the pier, and Kim Forward, the deputy leader, has had one. But there have been many meetings between council officers and Mr Gulzar’s pier team as well.
“Mr Gulzar has sated, to me and publicly, that he has ambitious plans for their pier, with proposals that include replacing the eastern pavilion, installing a new building at the pier head, and a landing stage for boat trips to his other pier in Eastbourne. All of these are potentially good ideas, and I look forward to seeing the plans for them.”
What about Amber Rudd?
Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd, who was also at the demonstration on Saturday, added: “It is essential that the community is involved at every opportunity with the pier, and I know we are all hoping for it to be re-opened as soon as possible. I will be holding a summit later in the month to explore the options of partially re-opening the pier and ensuring that residents are kept in the loop.
“I was pleased that Mr Gulzar accompanied me to the community gathering outside Hastings Pier last Saturday. I felt that the event was a success, and residents were able to relay their questions and concerns to the owner.”