PIERS are barometers of the health of coastal communities, and other seaside towns could learn a lot from Hastings, claims a report published this week.
The Co-operatives UK People’s Piers report states that many of the 58 piers across the country are trapped in a cycle of neglect and could benefit from Hastings Pier’s model of community ownership.
It was written by Jess Steele, who has been involved in the community efforts and activism surrounding the rebuilding of the pier since 2006.
She said: “Hastings was the most obvious in terms of really irresponsible ownership.
“It is great to see that we have made so much progress, and what I am arguing is that we should be sharing our experience nationally. Wherever there is a problem, I am suggesting that community ownership is a good potential solution.”
She wrote in the report that the challenges of managing a pier were huge, creating a ‘cycle of restoration and neglect’:
“Our solution was for dedicated, transparent charitable ownership - in perpetuity - coupled with local, co-operative-style membership and a strongly commercial and entrepreneurial management approach. The energy, passion and ambition has come from local people.”
Work has now started on Hastings Pier, after the borough council enacted a Compulsory Purchase Order and transferred ownership to Hastings Pier Charity.
A Community Share Scheme to be launched at the end of September aims to firmly establish it as a ‘people’s pier’.
There are currently two other piers in the UK in community ownership; Swanage and Clevedon. The rest are privately owned or held in trust by local authorities.
Ms Steele added: “It has been seven years of hard work and partnership. It feels great that it is something for the community to be proud of because it has been a collective effort.
“But I still feel quite angry that it has taken so long. I think compulsory purchase is too slow for precious buildings, we need something faster than that.”
Councillor Peter Chowney, lead member for regeneration at Hastings Borough Council, said: “It is wonderful to see the pier project come to fruition.
“I have always said our seafront is our shop window.”
He added that the regeneration of the pier would serve to focus attention on Hastings.
“We still have a way to go, but I think that the partnership and community approach is a good one.”
Anya Chapman, media relations officer for the National Pier Society, said: “The National Pier Society recognises that the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust has done a fantastic job securing Heritage Lottery funding, but this model is not applicable to all piers.
“There are an awful lot of council-owned and commercially controlled piers that are doing a great job, for example Brighton Pier.
“Each pier has its own issues, and the vast majority of owners are trying to keep their piers open.”
The People’s Piers UK, a support network of communities working together to save their local piers was recently established. To find out more email email@example.com.