Labour has criticised the Green administrations plans for Valley Gardens in the heart of Brighton.
Gill Mitchell, deputy leader of the opposition Labour group on Brighton and Hove City Council, first proposed a revamp of the area when her party was in office.
But Councillor Mitchell said that she could not support the current proposals and set out a raft of reasons.
She said: “The overall cost is around £18 million from the LEP (local enterprise partnership) if the business cases gain LEP and Treasury approval – plus nearly £4 million from the council’s own budgets that include Local Transport Plan funding that is already being borrowed against to the tune of £1 million to complete the arches at the i360 site.
“We did not support phases 1 and 2 for the following reasons.
“Sixteen months after councillors agreed to further work on this scheme we have been presented with a report and business case with a startling lack of analysis as to what the traffic impacts will be of a 30 per cent reduction in road space – reducing traffic lanes from two lanes in each direction to one – and where that displaced traffic will go.
“Increased congestion will offset many of the perceived benefits from improving the environment and landscaping the gardens.
“The report states that ‘opportunities to reduce levels of traffic are beyond the scope of the proposal’.
“But we are of the opinion that this scheme will only bring real benefits to the city if it is part of a wider package that reduces traffic growth in the city as a whole and takes into consideration changes that will be needed to reduce congestion elsewhere, such as at the Clock Tower, where bus journeys are lengthening and air quality is worsening.
“We think that the economic case is weak and there are some heroic assumptions that seem to depend on the argument that more office space will be created if the Valley Gardens road layout is reconfigured.
“It is stated that the scheme will boost the location of the ‘knowledge economy’ in the area but again (there is) no substance to back up this claim.
“Where will it go? Why wouldn’t it locate further out of the city? Again, there is no detailed analysis for this and if all this additional office accommodation does materialise, what will the traffic impact be?
“To state that the Brighton Centre, Black Rock, the New England Quarter will all have their potential unlocked by this scheme is tenuous to say the least.
“We cannot agree to all responsibility for the implementation of this scheme being ceded to the executive director with a cross-party working group being set up that will have no decision making power but is merely there to provide political cover when things go wrong.
“To make matters worse, the group is to be gagged with only the Green administration’s communications unit allowed any public comment.
“Why have we not seen this arrangement proposed for other major traffic schemes such as the Seven Dials or Lewes Road?
“Although Labour highlighted the potential for improving Valley Gardens several years ago and still believes that there is the opportunity to create a far more pleasant area of public open space in the heart of the city, we would not be bringing forward these proposals at this time when the seafront is a far greater priority with its current state posing a bigger threat to the city’s economy.
“We firmly believe that, having known the extent of the investment needed in the seafront, and in particular the West Street junction and Shelter Hall plus the fact that this is the second highest ‘corporate critical risk’, that funding for its repair should have been the only focus of the bid to the LEP.
“There is now no clear certainty of the seafront receiving the funding for a separate, later, bid given the Chancellor’s recent announcement that the vast majority of the funding will be going to projects in the north.
“So, to sum up, we have major concerns about how this scheme is going to work in practice, its doubtful economic case and the fact that traffic congestion is increasing on the seafront and at the Clock Tower with no investment confirmed for either.
“Once those areas are tackled then the largely cosmetic scheme in Valley Gardens can begin.
“For phase 3 we are being asked to take on trust that replacing the Palace Pier roundabout with a giant T-junction will work and all without the necessary funding in place to finish the job.
“At the same time the arches underneath the West Street junction are held up with scaffolding, the adjacent public toilets are closed for fear of collapse and there is no identified funding solution in sight.
“Changes are already being made to phases 1 and 2 that was agreed only two months ago to remove more road space.
“The Green administration should have made investing in the seafront infrastructure their number one priority for funding from the LEP where a clear and credible economic business case could have been made.
“Labour identified the potential for improving Valley Gardens back in 2006.
“However, that was when there was far more government money around for ‘urban realm’ schemes such as New Road.
“Now the funding rules have changed and each major transport scheme bid for has to demonstrate a sound economic case.”
The council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee is due to receive a report and decide what next for Valley Gardens when it meets at Hove Town Hall next Tuesday (7 October).
The meeting starts at 4pm and is open to the public. It is also due to be webcast. To read the council’s report on the Valley Gardens project, click here.
To read the latest report about the scheme, click here.
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