One of Britain’s most popular seaside attractions could soon close, leaving locals and tourists devastated.
Hastings Pier has been a popular tourist attraction on the south coast since it was 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 World War II.
But the East Sussex attraction may now have to close after racking up huge debts.
The pier was purchased 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 with debts amounting to £300,000.
Creditors include gas and electricity 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 over unpaid business rates.
The huge debt means the future of the 150-year-old pier is in doubt, and the council has stepped in to try to allay fears.
The building was badly damaged by fire in 2010, and was saved thanks to a £12.4 million cash injection from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Indian-born Sheikh Gulzar, 78, who also owns Eastbourne Pier, bought the pier for the low price of £60,000 in 2018.
Anger increased when the pier was closed for several months for “repairs.”
The pier reopened in 2019 but has racked up huge debts since the Covid pandemic.
In the past few months, bankruptcy notices have also been filed against three hotels owned by Gulzar.
Peter Wheeler, the engineer who helped restore the pier to its award-winning condition after the 2010 fire, has taken Gulzar’s company to an employment tribunal.
They and his engineering assistant, Francesca Hill, 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 that I would like to see it maintained in the condition it was in in 2017 and continue to be in active operation so that visitors can enjoy it.
“It’s simply not good enough to be able to start a company, rack up huge debt and then liquidate it.
“Those who are found to be doing this repeatedly should be banned from acting as directors of the company because it is just wrong.”
“Hastings Pier is not being properly maintained and, in the interest of the city, I would like to see it properly managed,” Mr Wheeler said.
He said he, especially Francesca Hill, had been subjected to “disgraceful treatment” by Gulzar, and claimed they were unlikely to get a penny from the court’s judgment.
During its 145-year history, the pier has burned twice, most recently sustaining major damage in 2010.
Pier fans expressed their disappointment online with some saying: “It was never supposed to be sold” to Gulzar in the first place.
Another said he was now just a “big plank of wood” and recalled the days when he would spend happy hours as a child on the sidewalk.
James Chang, spokesman for Friends of Hastings Pier (FOHP), said: “Our group has been watching the steady demise of Hastings Pier over the past few years with increasing concern.
“We have repeatedly reported maintenance issues with Hastings Borough Council and our local MP, both of whom have confirmed to us that they have contacted the owners of Hastings Pier to raise 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 to preserve the Grade II listed structure for generations to come.”
A Hastings Borough Council spokesman said: “Hastings Pier is an important asset to our town. We understand that residents and visitors are concerned about this following the recent news of the company that owns it going into administration.
“We are monitoring these updates, especially since the council is a creditor, but the pier is privately owned, so there are limits to the actions the council can take.”
Mr Gulzar said: “I want to assure the people of Hastings and beyond that we will keep the pier open.
“We are trying to work with Hastings Borough Council’s planning department so we can continue to restore the pier and obtain the necessary permissions to rebuild what was lost in the 2010 fire.
“If we can do this, we can attract more businesses, pubs, restaurants and fish and chip outlets to the pier and it will become financially viable. We have a long-term strategy but we need support.”