It could be a case of entrepreneur vs entrepreneur in the battle for Hastings Pier, after Sheikh Abid Gulzar joined Brighton’s Luke Johnson on the list of those expressing interest in acquiring it.
The future of Hastings’ troubled pier rests in the hands of those with amusements based interests – with the owner of neighbouring Eastbourne Pier the latest to reveal his interest in the operation.
Sheikh Abid Gulzar, the 72-year-old entrepreneur who bought Eastbourne Pier from Cuerden Leisure in October 2015, revealed to The Mail on Sunday that he is in talks with administrators Smith and Williamson.
Amid warnings that, despite its architectural plaudits, the operation would struggle without an amusements offering, the charity that operates Hastings Pier entered into administration in November last year after failing to secure the £800,000 required to fund it through to 2021.
Gulzar said: “To anyone living in Hastings I would say: look at the Eastbourne Pier and see what I have done. I can assure you I will do the same here.”
In a scenario where Gulzar did enter a successful bid and did adopt the same model at Hastings Pier as he has in Eastbourne, it would likely see the return of coin-op amusements to the former.
Although sceptical about bringing amusement machines back to the Eastbourne Pier when he took over, in June 2016 he opened three arcade units, with a fourth proposed for early 2018.
Gulzar could be facing some stiff competition in the shape of Luke Johnson, chairman of The Brighton Pier Group, which owns Brighton Palace Pier. In December, Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he had spoken with the Hastings Pier administrators and said it was possible he would be interested in adding a second such leisure attraction to his portfolio.
Having bought Brighton Palace Pier for £18m in April 2016, Johnson and Ackford have overseen the addition of new amusement rides and machines, as well as a new children’s soft play area, with a revamp of its pub and restaurant due this year.
Paul Kelly, head of the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions, said that the current generation of pleasure pier owners were working harder than ever to keep their businesses attractive and profitable.
“Piers have had a very difficult last tenor 15 years,and it is really at the moment a case of survival of the fittest,” he told The Mail on Sunday, naming Brighton Palace Pier and Weston-super-Mare’s Grand Pier as examples of those that had kept themselves relevant in the 21st century tourism market.
Kelly said the key to a pier’s success was to establish itself as a ‘destination’ attraction, adding:“That’s a combination of the old-time pier attractions such as the penny falls, the cranes, the games.
“And then some of the newer stuff – some have virtual reality, some have rides on them, such as Brighton.
“So you create a destination. I don’t think you can rely on just the fact that the pier is there.”