Friends of Hastings Pier (FoHP) have been accused on social media of conducting a ‘witch hunt’ against the new owner of Hastings Pier, Sheikh Abid Gulzar.
It was announced late on Friday that Mr Gulzar, owner of the pier in Eastbourne had won the tussle to secure ownership of the pier in Hastings. Almost immediately supporters of Friends of Hastings Pier – the action group which was set up to try to secure the future of the pier in community ownership – took to social media to denigrate the new owner and to question whether the administration process had been conducted fairly.
Then an angry group was filmed confronting Mr Gulzar late on Friday night as he arrived at the pier and Jess Steele one of the FoHP figureheads was seen blocking his way while offering him a cheque for £65,000 to buy the pier on behalf of FoHP. While the initial reaction suggested that the town was backing the position of FoHP, as the weekend has progressed the backlash has begun.
While supporters of FoHP see the groups’ supporters as justified in their actions because they believe the bid they put before administrators Smith and Williamson was not given due consideration, others clearly see the group having over-stepped the mark, James Dee took to Facebook to say: “I was disgusted by Jess Steele’s stunt… Instead of opening a hand of friendship and cooperation to the new owner, she and her followers decided to berate and present an unwelcoming environment. She has let Hastings down and FoHP down with this stunt.”
Darren McCann said: “Looking at the way the FoHP people conducted themselves towards Mr Gulzar when he arrived was a huge disappointment. Sulky, petulant, spiteful, rude and no self respect or respect for anyone else.
“FoHP should be friends with everyone and conduct themselves in a more mature way, show a little more self respect and respect for others.”
While Alan Matthews said: “I can understand the vast majority being sad and feeling let down but lets not take it out on a businessman who has put money in, not just the £50,000… but a commitment to develop and invest more money.
“With the experience of running a pier and hotels he is far better placed than a group of individuals who could only raise close to the commitment by grace of a huge loan. The last thing the pier needs is more debt.
“The administrators are not only experienced but also subject to scrutiny, so I doubt if they have given the pier away on a whim, rather placed it with an established local business that has the credentials to succeed.
“Protesting, you will just open yourselves to looking stupid, and poor losers. Why not instead welcome the new investor, offer to work together for the benefit of the pier and the community and focus on the future. Beware that no businessman will take you as a partner if you openly criticise and complain about him.”
Local businessman Steve Taylor says: “I’m guessing that very few of the people commenting actually know the new owner. I have been a contractor for him since 2009 and I’ve never had an issue.
“When he took over Eastbourne Pier he had the same adverse comments said to him then. I’m sure he’ll weather the storm. Now all he gets from residents of Eastbourne is praise.
“He’s a damn good businessman with the great view of putting families and entertainment first.”
Supporters of the new owner include Hastings man Lord Brett McLean who says: “Now that the under performing Hastings Pier starts a new chapter, a positive chapter under the figurehead of Sheikh Abid Gulzar we will witness at first hand a transformational change that will result in Hastings Pier becoming a flagship destination venue for the borough attracting thousands of local residents and visitors on a regular basis. Sheikh Gulzar has a combination of entrepreneurialism, proven track record in tourism development and hospitality and this will be extremely useful for the regeneration and future sustainability of Hastings Pier.”
But leader of Hastings Borough Council Peter Chowney has offered only a cautious welcome, he said yesterday: “I’m disappointed and rather angry at the administrator’s decision to give the pier to Abid Gulzar, the owner of Eastbourne Pier. The anger is more about the process. The council had no formal way of influencing this decision, but did try to persuade the administrator to allow more time to other bidders – there were at least two other bids that needed more time to raise funds or do the necessary due diligence, but their requests for more time were turned down. Officers talked to them, and I personally wrote to them urging to give full consideration to other bids, but to no avail.
“All others who were interested in taking on the pier had met me and council officers to talk about their proposals, and ask about what would be possible on the pier in planning terms, and how the council could help with a special planning policy to allow appropriate development on the pier. But we have had no formal approach at all from anyone associated with Eastbourne Pier so we have no idea what their ideas for Hastings Pier are – we’ve not seen the bid, nor have we been told anything about it. I had seen the rumours on social media, but the administrators told the council on Wednesday afternoon that no decision had been made. The first I knew about it was from the email from the administrators to pier shareholders, as one of the shareholders.
“Over the years, Hastings Council has spent well over a million pounds on the compulsory purchase and restoration of Hastings Pier. But we didn’t own it – it was transferred to Hastings Pier Charity, who eventually put the pier into administration because they couldn’t run it without several hundred thousand pounds a year in public subsidy.
“The Foreshore Trust Charity Committee was set to discuss possible options too at its meeting later this month, but there’s no point in that now. I’m afraid I really can’t understand the rationale to this decision, but we’ll now have to see what Mr Gulzar has in mind, when he decides to share that with us.”
Ms Steele said over the weekend that she was ‘saddened’ by the decision of the administrators and believed the bid put forward by FoHP was ‘better in every way’ than that put forward by Mr Gulzar. She says the group will take a few days to consider consider its options.