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Hastings Pier campaigners hope for successful public ownership bid

The pier reopened two years ago after a devastating fire.

Campaigners are hoping to hear imminently if their bid for public ownership of a pier has been successful amid claims it is set to be sold off to a controversial businessman.

The rebuilt Hastings Pier reopened just two years ago thanks to millions of pounds of public funding after it was ravaged by fire.

Last year won a national award when it was crowned the UK’s best new building. Then Hastings Pier Charity, which runs the seaside walkway, went into administration and the future of the East Sussex attraction now seems uncertain.

Campaigners have claimed tycoon Sheikh Abid Gulzar could be set to buy it for less than £100,000.

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A couple on Hastings Pier following two years of renovation after it was closed for safety (Gareth Fuller/PA)

But The Friends of Hastings Pier (FOHP) have launched a community bid to keep it in public ownership after submitting a business plan to administrators and fundraising half a million pounds.

They said on Friday they expect to hear news from administrators very soon, possibly before the end of the day.

Originally opened in 1872, the pier was damaged by fire twice, most recently in 2010.

It has played host to concerts for the likes of The Rolling Stones and Tom Jones and was a landing site for Second World War refugees.

The Heritage Lottery Fund granted £12.4 million to rebuild it and the reconstruction began in 2012. It reopened to the public in 2016 and won the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling Prize for the UK’s best new building last year.

Indian-born Mr Gulzar, who reportedly drives a gold Mercedes, has owned Eastbourne Pier since 2015 and hotels in the town, which is less than 20 miles from Hastings.

He is nicknamed “Goldfinger” because of his love of gold, causing controversy when he painted Eastbourne Pier’s traditional domes in gold, banned dogwalkers, fishing and picnics. He reportedly threatened to introduce a £2 entrance fee, although he has since insisted he wants to keep access free.

We want the pier to be run by the public and kept open for the public, somewhere that everyone can go James Chang, group spokesman

A week ago the 72-year-old registered a new company called Lions Hastings Pier Limited, naming himself as a director with an address he uses for other businesses, according to Companies House records.

He could not be contacted on Friday morning and remained tight-lipped on plans when he was interviewed on BBC Sussex on Thursday.

Members of the FOHP were reported as branding the suggestion a “travesty” and a “national disgrace”.

Speaking to Press Association on Friday, group spokesman James Chang said it would be wrong for a private buyer to reap the rewards of the publicly funded campaign to resurrect the pier.

He said: “We want the pier to be run by the public and kept open for the public, somewhere that everyone can go.

“We would not charge an entrance fee.

“The pier is of national interest and importance.

“We want a say in its future and for it to be used for the benefit of the public.

“The rumour mill has been turning. We expect Mr Gulzar is trying to sign a deal to buy it.”

He said campaigners understood the sale would be at a cut price.

Rumours of the potential sale led to hundreds of people gathering on the pier on Wednesday to protest.

The group is around £60,000 away from reaching its £500,000 target to keep the pier open in the short term while it applies for more grants.

Mr Chang said it had received large pledges if the group can become the owner and it continues to make more funding applications.

The business plan – drawing on guidance from pier and hospitality entrepreneurs – will include the idea for a new building on the pier where refreshments can be sold and activities can take place, he said.

Administrators Smith and Williamson said on Friday it is expecting to make an announcement soon.

Former home secretary Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye, said: “It is vital our pier’s new owner can provide stability and sustainability with a long term plan.

“I made sure the concerns of the local community were heard over the bidding process, and that Hastings Pier must always be free of charge on entry.

“I was pleased to see community group Friends of Hastings Pier had submitted an offer for the pier and I made clear that the community must always be involved with our pier should their offer be unsuccessful.

“I was encouraged to hear that the Heritage Lottery Fund and the pier’s administrators understand the importance of community involvement and will consider all offers fairly and carefully.”

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