Fire-hit pier handed to charity

Hastings pierA fire-ravaged Victorian pier has been returned to local ownership ahead of a £14 million project to revive the battered structure.

Work will start this month on Hastings Pier in East Sussex and will be completed by spring 2015, turning it into the "People's Pier", officials said.

The Grade II-listed pier has stood as a burnt-out eyesore since it was almost destroyed in an arson attack in October 2010 following years of neglect.

Nothing was done by its then Panama-registered owner Ravenclaw to restore the structure, which was proclaimed the "peerless pier" after opening in 1872.

The lack of effort led Hastings Borough Council to seek a compulsory purchase order so control of the pier could be handed to a specially set up trust.

Now it has been handed over to the Hastings Pier Charity, work can begin, starting with renovating the substructure, refurbishing the only pavilion still standing and constructing a new visitor centre.
Simon Opie, chief executive officer of the Hastings Pier Charity, which will oversee the rebuild, said: "We want a new pier as well as to restore the old, using sustainable materials wherever we can."

He added: "We want to offer a 21st century take on the traditional English pier and for it to be used by locals and visitors alike - a People's Pier."

Most of the £14 million has been raised by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with help from the Coastal Communities Fund, the Community Assets Fund, Hastings Borough Council and East Sussex County Council.

Peter Chowney, regeneration councillor at Hastings Borough Council, said: "Now finally, with the transfer of ownership from Ravenclaw to the pier charity, the partnership has realised its goal.

"The pier is in local ownership and the money is in place to restore it. So today is a very important day in the history of Hastings Pier and a real cause for celebration."

Carole Souter, chief executive of the HLF, said: "This is great news for the future of Hastings Pier.
"We are full of admiration for Hastings Pier Charity and its successful campaign to ensure a much-loved landmark is saved and restored to its rightful place at the heart of the community."

Up to 95% of the pier, which had been closed since 2006, was damaged in the arson attack in the early hours of October 5, 2010.

Two men, then aged 18 and 19, were arrested shortly afterwards but the Crown Prosecution Service later said there was not enough evidence to bring charges.

Designed by Eugenius Birch, the pier was originally 910ft long. In the 20th century it hosted a mix of dancing, slot machines, rifle ranges, bowling alleys, bingo, funfair rides - and all-night raves.

It also gained a reputation for staging big-name concerts, with performances from the Rolling Stones, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, Tom Jones and Cilla Black.

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