Community group seeks parliamentary inquiry into Hastings Pier sale

A community group which sought to keep Hastings Pier in public ownership has requested a parliamentary inquiry to look into the sale of the popular landmark.

Wednesday, 18th July 2018, 1:44 pm
Updated Wednesday, 18th July 2018, 1:48 pm
People's Pier protest on May 13. Photo by Frank Copper

Hastings Pier was sold to entrepreneur Sheikh Abid Gulzar, on June 15, after a lengthy fundraising bid from the Friends of Hastings Pier (FOHP) which raised more than £470,000.

The decision was made by administrators Smith and Williamson who said they ‘explored many potential buyers’ in the sale process, however, FOHP said it was left feeling ‘sad and shocked’ by the decision.

James Chang and Adam Wide from FOHP met with Hastings MP Amber Rudd on June 30 to raise three issues: ensuring there is community engagement with Mr Gulzar and a full disclosure of what he plans to do with the pier; if Ms Rudd can ask administrators Smith and Williamson for more transparency about the sale process; and a request for a parliamentary inquiry to look into the sale of Hastings Pier and what the administrators did during the sale process.

Mr Chang added: “We have written a terms of reference which has been submitted to Amber Rudd. We have also asked her to help us work out which committee would be best to approach.

“We are hopeful an inquiry could really look at the process of the administrator’s decision and whether this was right or whether the administrators used the right process to make their decision.”

Amber Rudd confirmed she advised FOHP to invite a select committee to look at the sale and told the group to write directly.

Asked whether he was confident in obtaining a parliamentary inquiry, Mr Chang said: “Yeah, I am actually. Lots of politicians – mainly Labour politicians – have shown support for it and have said they are interested.”

In response, Mr Gulzar said he has ‘from the very outset worked seven days a week on Hastings Pier with his team’.

He added: “As I have said so many times, what has happened in the past has had nothing to do with me and is not my focus.

“I am focused very much on making Hastings Pier a great pier which everyone will enjoy.

“I do not want any distractions. We must all talk Hastings up.

“I am getting a great team in place and I am chatting every day to locals and listening to them.

“I have also met the council leader and other key people in Hastings, including Amber Rudd MP.”

The pier reopened to the public on June 25, just four days before a banner placed at the entrance of the pier carrying the logos of 27 businesses which supported Mr Gulzar’s take-over was vandalised – something Mr Chang condemned.

He added: “The community is split in its reaction to Mr Gulzar’s take-over. I would describe it as our own mini Brexit.

“However, I do not support the hostility shown towards Mr Gulzar and I strongly condemn the vandalism.

“We do not have an issue with Mr Gulzar – in fact, we would like to work with him to make a success of the pier. The issue we have is how the administrators came to their decision and whether they made the right one. This inquiry would be about transparency and has nothing to do with the new owner.”

Mr Gulzar’s take-over of Hastings Pier received a mixed reaction as Peter Chowney, the leader of Hastings Borough Council, said he was ‘disappointed and angry’ at the decision to sell to a private investor.

In a separate statement, Hastings Borough Council said it was disappointed other bidders of Hastings Pier were not given more time to develop their plans before it was sold.

However, Ms Rudd welcomed Mr Gulzar’s plans to keep entry to the pier free before the Heritage Lottery Fund and National Piers Society welcomed the administrator’s decision.

Smith and Williamson have been approached for comment.