i360 visitor numbers slightly down on target – but attraction still on track to repay council-brokered loan
The i360 didn’t attract quite as many visitors in its first four months as anticipated – but is still on track to make a profit and repay the £36m loan it secured via the city council.
From its opening date of August 4 until the end of November, there have been 223,127 flights compared to a forecast of 249,020 forecast for the same time period.
But according to an answer to a Freedom of Information request made to Brighton and Hove City Council, this is well within the financial parameters set out by the company to the council at its policy and resources committee.
However, one Brighton journalist who has spent months locked in a battle with the city council who he has asked to disclose the i360’s full business case says more information is needed to properly scrutinise whether the attraction’s performance makes it an asset or a risk to the city council’s finances.
John Keenan, whose Freedom of Information request is currently being appealed by the city council to the Information Commissioner said: “Visitor figures ‘well within parameters’ of the policy and resources committee is woolly to say the least, especially when the report’s ‘parameters’ were very broad.
“If/when the unredacted business report is published, we can see specific benchmarks not just for visitors but on revenue streams and costs – and can quiz the council each year to ask if they are on target or not.”
The dip in numbers is partly down to four days when the i360 was shut. Two of these were due to Storm Angus, when winds were too high for the viewing tower to safely go up and down.
The other two were due to technical difficulties which led the pod to go into lockdown when too people moved in the same direction at the same time. These have since been resolved.
The query, submitted via WhatDoTheyKnow by Karen Howkins, also asks how long the BA sponsorship will last. The answer is for an initial term of five years.
Mr Keenan first put in his freedom of information request to Brighton and Hove City Council in September 2015. After it was turned down, he appealed to the Information Commissioner, who agreed that the full business case as submitted to the council should be published.
The council has now appealed that ruling, and both parties are now waiting to hear the final ruling, expected sometime early this year.
The council and the i360 argue that releasing the information will give a commercial advantage to its competitors, including the Sealife Centre and the Brighton Centre.
Ahead of the council’s submission for its appeal, it agreed to release some previously redacted pages from the business case, which showed that the i360 has estimated it will attract 822,600 visited in its first year, bringing in £7.5million in ticket sales.
It hopes to make a total of £12million in the first year, including revenue from its conference rooms and restaurant. This will help make a total profit of about £6million.
The i360 was given a 27-year loan by the Public Works Loans Board, a central government pot for lending to big projects with a commercial return. The city council is guaranteeing this loan, and in return it will be paid £1million a year in interest.
the i360 declined to comment on the release of the figures.
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