The Sheikh’s Pier
Eastbourne pier has a new owner, flamboyant Eastbourne hotelier Abid Gulzar, who is a self-appointed Indian sheikh (the title is a family name apparently).
70 year old entrepreneur hasn’t wasted any time in his publicity drive. He has gained national press recognition, with television devoting time to him as well. This is all aimed at getting public and officialdom on his side so when his plans are finally revealed they will be approved.
The change of ownership occurred during early November 2015, for a reputed sum less than one million pounds. Mr. Gulzar owns the Albany and Mansion hotels on Eastbourne’s flat seafront, as well as the Boship Hotel in nearby Hailsham. He also is the proprietor of a children’s nursery.
All property owned by him has the title ‘Lions’. This has never been explained, but I presume is connected to an image, like Richard Branson’s Virgin. The pier has been rebranded ‘The Lions Pier’.
Eastbourne pier suffered a major fire in July 2014, resulting in the 1925 built Blue Room ballroom being completely destroyed. Mr. Gulzar is a shrewd businessman, having already bought and sold two seafront hotels for reputed double his money profits.
Having spoken with locals, there is universal approval of his plan to charge a pier entrance fee. Common sense, really, as it requires a lot of maintenance. However, there is also misgiving as to plans and motive.
He has a poor record of compliance with Eastbourne Borough Council’s planning department. Previously, his policy has been to do it, and when told he shouldn’t have, then apply for retrospective permission, which is often granted through expediency.
Any major pier alterations have to be previously approved. At present, the pier is not subject to a mandatory maintenance order, but this can be quickly imposed if public safety is compromised. Eastbourne pier is an ongoing project, with workmen continuously employed throughout the year.
Constant salt erosion, public places wear and tear, waves crashing below, winter storms, all these have to be combated, and if not, then the council have the powers to shut the pier down if they consider public safety standards to be falling. There is a lot involved in being a pier owner.
New owner Mr. Gulzar has expressed his intention in renovating the dock at the end of the pier so pleasure boats can land, bringing in tourists from other resorts such as Brighton and possibly further afield. Until 1959 there were daily summer departures for day trips to Boulogne, before that steamers plied their trade along the coast between resorts.
However, this would prove unpopular with fishermen, as their platform would be removed. Fishing is not a particular money-spinner.
There is a tea room on the pier. At present, the standards are not particularly high, very few patrons being prepared to pay high prices for indifferent cream teas. Hopefully an injection of inspiration will prove beneficial.
There is a room above the night club accessed by wooden steps. It contains a camera obscura. Built in 1898, this is a two metre convex grey round dish with a pitted surface. The public stands looking at the image on the dish, in colour, reflected through a series of refracted glass from the tunnelled gap in the roof above. The operator turns a handle so the image rotates.
It was last used in 2004, when the fee was £2. Apparently, there is Heritage or Lottery money available to be set against the £50,000 restoration costs. That is a real jewel in the pier’s crown.
Another intention is to have a theatre above the night club.
The previous owners received a £10m insurance payout for fire damage. This money is theirs, so Mr. Gulzar has to fund all improvements. He has to have public liability insurance. Would fire and storm damage insurance be prohibitively expensive. Would he find a company prepared to accept the liability. Or would he take the risk himself.
There is a lot of local public goodwill for Mr. Gulzar and his pier ownership. I hope that he uses this wisely.