i360 visitor numbers slightly down on target – but attraction still on track to repay council-brokered loan

Posted On 30 Jan 2017 at 3:23 pm

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.

The i360 when it was stuck in September. Picture by Colin Deady from Twitter

The i360 when it was stuck in September. Picture by Colin Deady from Twitter

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.

  1. Carrie Hynds Reply

    “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.”

    At the time of the i360’s construction, the Brighton Wheel was removed and the reason given was that it was a potential competitor – a bit of a stretch, as the quirky Steve Coogan commentary was a far cry from the BA-sponsored “flights”, but at least they were both viewing attractions. Now we’re supposed to see the aquarium and the conference centre as rivals?! With taxpayers’ money at stake surely the public interest in this information being released is far greater than any commercial sensitivity, given that with the demise of the Wheel the i360 is now a unique attraction in our city.

  2. Rolivan Reply

    No mention of à replacement for Eleanor Harris yet.Also how much of The almost 1m has been spent more than à few hundred feet from the i360?

  3. Hjarrs Reply

    The visitor figures for the i360 are higher than I expected and it looks like turning a tidy profit for the city.

    It is a shame that a small minority have continually knocked the i360 from the start.

    • Rolivan Reply

      Yes it is great by the time the loan gets paid back the Council Coffers will have benefitted by about 25million which will kep the area around the i360 looking pristine,meanwhile?

      • Hjarrs Reply

        Meanwhile what? The attraction is paying its way, creating employment, providing an attraction to help draw people to the city and has been a catalyst to refurbishing a fair chunk of the sea front. This is a damn site better than a rusty stub of pier.

    • Gerald Wiley Reply

      @HJarrs – good to see visit number are higher then YOU expected – what was your estimate?

      And precisely what do you mean by a “tidy profit” for the city?

      And I think you’ll find that most people didn’t ‘knock’ the i360 – they just showed “healthy scepticism” on the financials rather than the “blind faith” and “hope” we saw from various environmental projects where £ms of public money is thrown at projects that then fail to deliver cost effective results.

  4. Charlie Bones Reply

    I am now far less confidant in the project than previously. The footfall for B&H would have to increase by the number of passengers otherwise it is clear the i360 is taking customers away from smaller, established attractions and businesses who employ far more people overall and spread their profits much more widely in the community. Local, small business spending has been shown to be of far more benefit. Once the low wages of the i360 staff are taking off the rest of the money goes to pay off the business coasts and loan. Doesn’t seem very local friendly to me.

    • Andy Reply

      What evidence do you have that the i360 is taking visitors away from ‘smaller established attractions and businesses?’ None I’ll wager.
      In fact the opposite is very likely true, the i360 is brining people to the city to the benefit of all businesses.
      The council has made bold moves to update the whole of the seafront and should be congratulated for a great bit of businesss where they have created jobs, brought more tourists to the city, and are siting on a cool million a year in interest payments.
      Still some people are never happy….

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