HELEN BURTON: Eastbourne Pier, the rules and racism

Helen Burton SUS-160113-100959001
Helen Burton SUS-160113-100959001
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Eastbourne Pier has made national news again this week, almost two years to the day after the fire that nearly destroyed it, this time it is because the Pier’s new owner Sheikh Gulzar has painted the dome gold without getting the appropriate planning permission first.

The pier is a Grade II listed property so permission should have been sought before painting began, and the Sheikh is now seeking retrospective planning permission. While I would be the first to argue that you can’t go messing around with listed properties, I can’t help wondering why a choice of paint colour has caused such controversy and made it into several national newspapers. Whatever you think of the colour (and personally I think the Pier looks better than it has done for many, many years) reaction on social media has been extreme too. I have been appalled at the blatantly racist comments that have been made and it seems to me that a lot of the controversy about this issue is driven by an underlying racism which has become all too familiar in this country lately. It’s okay to say you think he was wrong to paint the cupola gold. It’s ok to say you don’t like the colour. It’s okay to complain about planning infringements. It is not okay to bring the Sheikh’s heritage into the equation. Comments have been made about him making it look like a mosque, well surely for that you might have to blame the Victorians who built it? Where are the comments attacking the Duke of Devonshire? The Sheikh has just painted the cupola a different colour. Love it or loathe it you can’t please everyone. I love the gold dome, and I think the rest of the pier has been beautifully painted. The detail in some of the metalwork was not really noticeable before, but now the lions have been picked out in gold the skill of the original makers can literally shine through. That is my opinion, and yours may differ, and that is fine, but make sure when you comment about anything and bring race, religion or someone’s heritage into the conversation you are doing so because it is relevant to the argument. In this case it is not, and people may have to think about the fact that they are just a bit more racist than they thought. If you catch yourself saying “I’m not racist but...” then you are probably about to say something racist. Don’t. We need to make sure that this kind of casual racism is stamped out, and that post Brexit we are still a country that respects other cultures and religions. As for the Sheikh, thank goodness for him stepping in and saving our pier. I am ashamed of the racism that he is coming up against in our town and hope he carries on his good work with the pier, whatever colour is decided on.