ONE of Britain’s most iconic seaside attractions could soon close, leaving locals and tourists devastated.
Hastings Pier has been a popular tourist attraction on the south coast since it first opened to the public in 1872.
It has hosted concerts by the Rolling Stones, the Who and Jimi Hendrix and served as a landing site for refugees during the Second World War.
But the East Sussex attraction could now be forced to shut after racking up enormous debts.
The pier was bought in 2018 by controversial hotelier, Sheikh Abid Gulzar, who drives a distinctive gold Mercedes, wears large gold rings and is known as Mr Goldfinger.
Gulzar's company, Lions Hastings Pier Ltd, has gone into liquidation owing up to £300,000.
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Among the creditors are gas and electric companies, former employees, a bank, a council and several small businesses.
It is understood the company also owes more than £30,000 to Hastings Borough Council for unpaid business rates.
The huge debt means the future of the 150-year-old pier has been thrown into doubt and the council has stepped in to try to allay fears.
Badly damaged by fire in 2010, it was saved thanks to a £12.4million cash injection from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
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Indian-born Sheikh Gulzar, 78, who also owns Eastbourne Pier, bought the pier for a knockdown price of £60,000 in 2018.
He caused further anger when he closed the pier for several months to carry out “repairs.”
The pier reopened in 2019 but has accumulated huge debts since the Covid pandemic.
In the last few months bankruptcy notices have also been filed against three hotels owned by Mr Gulzar.
Peter Wheeler, an engineer who helped restore the pier to award-winning condition following the 2010 fire, took Mr Gulzar’s firm to an employment tribunal.
Along with his engineer assistant, Francesca Hill, they sued him and were awarded £31,000 and £45,000 for the “disgraceful treatment” they were subjected to.
He said: “Hastings pier is a focal point for the whole town and my only concern is I would like to see it maintained to the condition it was in 2017 and for it to continue to be run viably so that visitors can enjoy it.
“It is simply not good enough to be able to set up a company, rack up huge debts and then to liquidate.
“Those found to repeatedly do this should be banned from acting as company directors because it is just wrong.”
Mr Wheeler said: “Hastings pier is not being maintained properly and for the good of the town I would like to see it being properly run.”
He said he, and especially Francesca Hill, were subjected to “disgraceful treatment” by Mr Gulzar’s firm and claimed it was unlikely they would ever see a single penny from the award made by the court.
In its 145-year history the pier has burned down twice, most recently suffering severe damage in 2010.
Fans of the pier expressed disappointment online with some saying "it should never have been sold" to Mr Gulzar in the first place.
Another said it was now just a "big plank" and reminisced about the days he used to spend many happy hours as a child on the pier.
James Chang, spokesperson for the Friends of Hastings Pier (FOHP) said: “Our group have been watching the steady demise of Hastings Pier over the last few years with increasing concern.
“We have repeatedly flagged maintenance issues with Hastings Borough Council and our local MP both of whom have assured us that they had approached the owners of Hastings Pier to pass on our concerns.
“What we would like to see is an owner who is committed to investing money in Hastings Pier to make it a vibrant community space for all to enjoy and preserve the Grade II structure for future generations.”
A spokesperson for Hastings Borough Council said: “Hastings Pier is an important asset for our town. We are aware that residents and visitors are concerned about it following the recent news about its owning company going into administration.
“We are following these updates, particularly as the council is a creditor, but the Pier is privately owned so there are limits to what action the council can take.”
Mr Gulzar said: “I want to assure the people of Hastings and beyond that we will be keeping the pier open.
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"We are trying to work with Hastings Borough Council planning department so that we can to continue the restoration of the pier and get the necessary permissions to rebuild what was lost in the fire in 2010.
“If we can do that then we can attract more businesses, bars, restaurants, fish and chip outlets to the pier and it will become financially viable. We have a long term strategy but we need the support.”
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