Hastings Pier Conservation

Hasting Pier, restored and regenerated. April 2016. Ramboll

Hasting Pier, restored and regenerated. April 2016. Ramboll


Jackie Heath. Ramboll

Jackie Heath

Project Director
T: +44 20 7631 5291
Graham Pavey. Ramboll

Graham Pavey

Principal Engineer
T: +44 7870 806 608
Nick Clarke. Ramboll

Nick Clarke

Division Director - Marine
T: +44 23 8081 7500

From ruined to re-opened 

The much loved Victorian pleasure pier at Hastings has risen like a phoenix, following decades of abuse, thanks to a group of local people and funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Ramboll played a key role in the restoration and regeneration of Hastings Pier, offering strategic advice to both the Pier Trust and Hastings Borough Council.

'Pier to Pier' is a short six-minute video filmed over several years, showing Hastings Pier’s transformation from ruined to re-opened. Click here to view the video courtesy of Matthew Wheeler, Chalkman Productions.


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Community campaign

The positive impact that a pier can have on a seaside economy was a key driver in the campaign to restore the Grade II listed substructure of Hastings Pier. Built in 1872, it has been subjected to an aggressive marine environment, fire, storms, decay, troubled ownership and much neglect. Following closure in 2008, it was ravaged by fire in 2010.

The £14.2 million refurbishment works will not only save Hastings Pier but also secure its future. A renovated pier attracts promenading tourists and becomes a valuable asset for locals, the adjacent town, and the region.

The project has been a testament to the enthusiasm of the community, support of the local council and Historic England and the skill and commitment of the project team, who all look forward to the gala opening planned for 21st May 2016.

Designed by great pier engineer, Eugenius Birch, and built by R Laidlaw & Son of Glasgow, the 272m long Hastings Pier now features a refurbished pavilion and new visitor centre constructed from cross laminated timber resulting in a lightweight carbon negative structure. The pavilion and visitor centre also feature some of the old timber deck that remained in good condition creating a sense of nostalgia of the pier’s heritage. The new and improved facilities have been designed to suit the changing demands of a seaside pier but also the flexibility to generate income sufficient to maintain it for future generations

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Ramboll involvement and challenges

This project is the latest in Ramboll's extensive portfolio of restoring approximately one fifth of the UK’s prominent remaining seasides piers. Ramboll has applied technology, research and our design skills innovatively to solve problems particular to conserving a heritage asset in the sea and to deliver a pier with a viable future.

Our involvement with Hastings Pier dates back to 2006, when we were commissioned to undertake an extensive survey of the pier’s sub-structure.

Since 2012 Ramboll has provided technical input on heritage and conservation engineering, M&E, marine, ground, fire and façade engineering and environment and ecology consultancy. The challenge of integrating a new building into the old pier sub-structure involved detailed design and structural engineering for the repairs to the substructure, conservation and adaption of the sole remaining bandstand building into a restaurant, and design of a new building for a visitor centre suitable for a range of functions.

The challenges peculiar to the conservation of this large, historic structure in the marine environment have demanded innovative approaches, including a conservation strategy, surveying a pier with precarious stability, design in the marine environment, a glare study analysis for the originally intended mirrored glass façade to the new visitor centre and environmentally sustainable construction in the marine environment.

The engineering challenges facing Ramboll engineers would have been only too familiar to their predecessor Eugenius Birch working in this highly demanding frontier. Birch overcame the difficulties of a marine environment and the unpredictable ground conditions through a series of innovative solutions. Even in the 21st century, with the range of state of the art techniques available to us, it is remarkable the extent to which Birch’s approach has shaped our own.

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In 2012 Ramboll prepared a conservation management plan for the pier. The purpose of this study was to assimilate the understanding of the history of the pier, assess its significance and value, and set out policies to protect and enhance the valued aspects of the pier. The plan concluded that the very existence of the pier is the most significant aspect, rather than specific parts of historic fabric.

A sound understanding of the approach to the original construction of the pier helped to develop a strategy that is both site specific and sympathetic to the historic structure. Traditionally the pier substructure is a permanent engineered structure whereas the buildings on top are often timber, lightweight and more temporary.

The Visitor Centre required new columns and piles to support it in the centre of the pier. These were installed in the part of the pier that had been dismantled during the war to prevent enemy landing. It was designed as a modern building, with no reference to 19th century style. Constructed from sustainable Cross Laminated Timber, the new building will include a community space and educational centre, along with a rooftop viewing terrace with steps doubling as seating for temporary events.

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Glare study

The original design intent was for the new visitor centre to have a mirrored glass façade to benefit from its pier location, reflecting the sea. However, HPC’s concerns that inadvertent glare from the façade could potentially dazzle drivers on the busy sea front resulted in Ramboll’s façade team undertaking a bespoke glare study assessment of the risks to road users which, as there are no relevant codes of practice, was based on limited academic research and first principles. The façade team at Ramboll was able to show that the risk of solar glare from the visitors centre could be considered low to negligible, giving confidence that the mirrored façade would not pose a safety risk.

As part of the design development, the façade design was later changed to timber cladding using old deck planks.

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Conservation principles

The approach to repairing the pier was based on the conservation principle of minimum intervention, i.e. intervene as little as possible. This had to be balanced against the difficulty of replacing only part of a truss, brace, tie or beam.

Wherever possible an element was retained but a pragmatic approach was taken if an element would shortly need replacement because of the certainty of continued deterioration and the difficulties of enabling access in the future.

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Surveying a large unstable structure

The 280m long x 12m high pier was difficult to survey because of its size and complexity and restricted access. Access from the beach is dependent on the tides, and parts of the pier were unstable and completely inaccessible following loss of large areas of the timber decking to fire in 2010, and storm damage to the head of the pier in 2014.

In 2007 Ramboll carried out an extensive baseline inspection and survey, in which every truss bay and element was thoroughly and methodically photographed. At the start of detailed design in 2012, a laser scan survey of the pier was undertaken. This overcome problems of access, due to height and tides, and legibility of the complex sub-structure from the beach. The laser scan survey gave very accurate measurements across most of the pier. This, along with the 2007 survey, allowed for desk-based review and the design of generic and bespoke structural solutions for different parts of the structure as appropriate.

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Design in the marine environment

To provide durability against the harsh marine environment at Hastings, the design had to take account of corrosion and failure of truss elements, plus the loss of the vertical cross-bracing and horizontal ties that provide the pier with its structural stability.

A combined approach was followed: the replacement trusses, cross beams and ties were galvanised to protect them for 15 years (their assembly method allowed for this in advance off site), and then designed considering a corrosion allowance of 35 years at average rates.

Due to the unknown remaining capacity of the historic cast iron columns and potential for hidden defects and future degradation, principal truss members were designed to double-span allowing for replacement columns to be installed more easily.

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Ramboll worked alongside architect dRMM, cost consultants PT Projects, Hastings Pier Charity and a number of contractors including FPE, to ensure the vision for Hastings Pier was successfully delivered. We provided the structural engineering for the repairs to the pier and the design of the Visitor Centre as well as technical input on heritage, conservation engineering, marine engineering, environment and ecology, facades and M&E.

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Environmentally sustainable practices

At an early stage an ecological walkover carried out by Ramboll assessed the potential impact of the works on sub-tidal and intertidal zones as low impact.

The new visitor centre is constructed from lightweight Cross Laminated Timber, which minimised construction materials needed for the foundations. The building is carbon negative taking into account sequestration, with an embodied carbon of -88 tonnes of C02.

Methods were developed for the reduction of concrete waste. During the pour of the thin concrete deck slab for the visitors centre, extra care prevented any spillages into the sea and the long pump line was continually monitored for breaches. In addition, the pump pour was stopped short and the concrete remaining in the pump hose was blown into the pour. This not only eliminated risk of spillage during dismantling of the hose, but meant that the 1.25m3 of concrete that would otherwise have been left in the pipe was not wasted. This also saved a lot of water that would have been used to manually clean the 50 pipes making up the hose.

The areas of the old timber decking that remained and were in good condition were salvaged and re-used to clad the vertical walls of the Visitor Centre and extension to the refurbished pavilion. The old timber was also used to make furniture for the pier deck, including benches, chairs, tables and planters

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Flexibility to generate income

Whilst many historic buildings can reinvent themselves and secure a sustainable future with a new function, sea-side piers are denied such opportunities for diversification.

With a lot of local devotion, funding sourced from a lottery grant, other grants, through a community share scheme as well as “buy a plank” and similar initiatives, £14.2m was raised by Hastings Pier Charity to provide the pier with the facilities to suit the changing demands of a seaside pier but also the flexibility to generate income sufficient to maintain it for future generations.

The sole remaining bandstand building has been adapted into a restaurant and the new visitor centre has been designed to be suitable for a range of functions. Seasonal events will be held on the pier attracting visitors to the west end of the town and to local businesses along the way.

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Image gallery and video

Hastings Pier in the news

Hastings Pier wins 2017 Stirling Prize

Hastings Pier wins the RIBA Stirling Prize, the UK's most prestigious architecture award. RIBA president and jury chair Ben Derbyshire described it as a "masterpiece of regeneration and inspiration"

Best buildings of 2016


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