Some of the senior figures from the construction sector in Brighton and Hove questioned politicians about their housing and planning policies at a hustings this evening (Wednesday 15 April).
The event, Construction Voice, was organised by the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce, and took place at the County Ground, in Eaton Road, Hove.
It attracted, among others, developers, architects and surveyors.
Three councillors fielded the questions – Phélim Mac Cafferty, a Green candidate and chairman of Brighton and Hove City Council Planning Committee, the opposition Conservative group leader Geoffrey Theobald, and Labour group leader Warren Morgan.
All recognised the need for thousands of new homes for the sons and daughters of the city as well as those coming here from elsewhere. And all agreed that more affordable homes were needed.
Andy Winter, the chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust (BHT), said: “The word affordable has been hijacked and completely distorted.”
He said that people on low and middle incomes who the city relies on were being priced out and that that was a dangerous situation.
He added that whoever had “the great misfortune to form the next administration” faced a huge challenge.
Tom Shaw, from Hyde housing association, asked what could be done to improve confidence in the planning process locally.
Councillor Theobald said that under the Conservatives there would be a helpful and constructive planning service.
He said that every opportunity would be taken to remove unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape from the planning process.
Ed Allison-Wright, from property company Centurion, asked about innovation.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said that, despite the financial challenges, the planning department was working incredibly hard and would explore all options, including those around tall buildings, to meet the housing needs of the area.
The panellists explored some of the challenges around employment space, including offices.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said that more than 9,000 jobs had been created over the past four years and that shop vacancy rates were well below the national and regional average.
And he pointed to the emerging plans for Preston Barracks in Brighton.
Councillor Morgan said that industrial estates, such as the one in Woodingdean, should be safeguarded. And he spoke about the need to modernise places such as the area around Hove Station.
Councillor Morgan also spoke about listening to local businesses about the obstacles they faced in upgrading office space in response to a question from Gavin Stewart, who runs the Business Investment District.
Councillor Mac Cafferty acknowledged issues around viability and market trends. He also highlighted the way that the Greater Brighton city region had attracted external funding since the City Deal was signed.
One of the surveyors said that a game changer was needed, with the council providing a lead – and a clear strategic vision.
He said that big employers preferred new and well-designed offices rather than refurbished older buildings. Without such buildings, jobs would go to places such as London, Gatwick or Crawley.
He urged the council to identify a viable site for a gateway building and to accept the need for a park and ride.
Councillor Mac Cafferty flagged up the possibilities at Toads Hole Valley, with a consultation due to start in June.
Councillor Morgan pointed to organisations such as Amex and how they tended to want city centre sites.
He added: “I would love to create some employment space in Whitehawk in my ward.”
He reiterated Labour’s commitment to park and ride and promised a co-ordinated transport network.
The seafront is, he said, our shop window, our playground, our major transport artery – and Labour, he promised, would invest in renewing it.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said that the seafront was being rebuilt after years of under-investment.
The city was booming, with 11 million visitors last year, he said. And the number visiting “the nation’s favourite seaside resort” had risen year on year.
He said that a development agreement was being negotiated with Standard Life to expand Churchill Square and build a new concert and conference centre at Black Rock.
Councillor Morgan said that it was vital to provide a “rapid transit” between Black Rock and the big seafront hotels.
Councillor Theobald said that conference facilities at Black Rock would give Brighton Marina a boost while some conferences would opt to stay closer to the existing big hotels such as the Grand and the Hilton Brighton Metropole.
Councillor Mac Cafferty and Councillor Morgan paid tribute to the “reality check” provided by Tony Mernagh, who retired yesterday.