Millions of pounds are to be spent changing the layout of the Old Steine area but the project could cost all of us much more if the wrong approach is taken.
The risk is that businesses are unable to receive vital deliveries when they need them, jams make Brighton a much less attractive place to visit and pollution gets worse rather than better.
Road safety is cited by the council’s current Labour administration as a reason to do away with the Aquarium roundabout and put in a “T” junction and traffic lights.
But the numbers don’t stack up. The 40-second delay at the proposed T junction will have a negative impact on the local economy – on jobs and businesses – estimated to cost more than £17 million.
And there is no evidence that a reasonably safe stretch of road will be made significantly safer by a redesign that few people in the area actually support.
Are the Conservatives suggesting that Brighton and Hove City Council does nothing? Far from it. Even amid the flawed consultation that is said to have taken place, there are possibilities that could work for people living, working and travelling in the area.
The business case has now been published and responses to the consultation are being made which only amplify the concerns voiced by the Conservatives.
But if the Labour administration remains determined to replace the roundabout with a T junction, it risks bringing the whole project down.
The T junction element has so many economic dis-benefits that it will, if properly assessed, so outweigh the benefits that the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) will struggle to award vital funding.
Labour admits in the business case that the traffic light delays alone will hurt the economy. But it does not appear to have assessed or included the impact of the 120-plus coaches and buses that daily use Madeira Drive once there is only one exit – at Duke’s Mound.
There are no plans to change the Duke’s Mound junction with Marine Parade so how will coaches and buses turn left without crossing both carriageways? Imagine the jams, the delays and the pollution – not to mention the new road safety risks.
Taxi and private hire drivers will pay for this mess too, as they will end up going expensively out of their way as a result of the new layout. And their passengers will have to pay the price with no economic assessment being made of the impact to the city’s own 1,100 licensed taxi and private hire vehicles.
Nor is there any mention of how the exciting Waterfront project and the T junction will be future-proofed to ensure that the new concert and conference centre can accommodate tens of thousands of people coming and going.
We need to provide efficient mass transport solutions to and from the city centre so why are we now limiting our options?
We have a fantastic variety of business sectors in Brighton and Hove yet Labour seems to have overlooked the key role of tourism. It supports 22,000 jobs and is worth a staggering £900 million a year.
The business case focuses on things like active travel, land values, public realm changes and knowledge-based businesses. But there is no economic assessment of how tourism will be affected.
Now is not the time to do anything that could remotely harm tourism, not least given how reliant the council is on the sector for rents and business rates.
Crucially, the case for altering the Aquarium roundabout is not necessarily linked to the Old Steine regeneration. It appears more to do with casualty numbers.
We all wish there were no casualties but based on Labour’s own predicted fall in casualties (44 per cent), the T junction will still have the highest number of casualties in Brighton.
To put it into context, based on Labour’s own figures, over a five-year data period, there has been only one pedestrian casualty rated as severe – and no deaths.
One casualty is one too many. However, with 50,000 vehicle journeys through the aquarium roundabout each day, equalling 91 million journeys over five years, there is a 1 in 91 million chance of a pedestrian being severely injured.
The odds of winning the National Lottery are 1 in 45 million – and over the same five years there were tragically 2,104 deaths from 171 million commercial flights. In reality, you are twice as likely to win the lottery or 1,000 times more likely to die in a plane crash than be severely injured as a pedestrian at the Aquarium roundabout.
We have asked a number of questions in recent weeks seeking specific details on accidents and how they happened. We have asked for comparable accident data elsewhere in Brighton and Hove. We have asked for a breakdown of the economic benefits and dis-benefits presented in the business case.
Regretfully our questions have not been answered and we are told that the model doesn’t allow for the financial data to be broken down. Computer says “no”.
The business case appears to sweep away the concerns and negative impacts of the T junction by recommending that the decision to proceed should be made because of the benefits to the wider Valley Gardens scheme.
That is frankly not good enough. To “lose” the negative impact of changing the Aquarium roundabout because other disconnected areas are better will not prevent the economic downturn to those who rely on driving through the T junction or those who rely on tourism.
Further, the financial implications in the report to the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability (ET&S) Committee identify a total budget of £7.25 million of which the city will contribute £1.25 million. However, in the same report costs are projected to be £7.84 million with the potential to rise by 20 per cent. Before the project starts there is a projected overspend that will only weaken the already fragile business case.
There is a solution, however. It is known as “option 3” and involves buses and taxis and private hire vehicles running up and down the western side of the Old Steine. Crucially, this phase of the scheme – phase three – should adopt option 3 and except for some minor improvements, do nothing to the Aquarium roundabout.
The Conservatives will present amendments when the ET&S Committee meets next Tuesday (27 November) to decide how to proceed. It may mean a delay to the decision but we have one chance to get this right. If we get this wrong, the impact will be significant and long-lasting.
Labour delayed decisions on the first two phases of this scheme for two years so that it could look at the traffic modelling in more detail and using more up-to-date information. We are asking Labour to support our amendments so that we get this right for the future of our city.
Four years ago Councillor Gill Mitchell, Labour’s lead on the ET&S Committee, said: “We are being asked to take on trust that replacing the Palace Pier roundabout with a giant T junction will work.
“I would urge Conservative councillors to rethink their support for this scheme, which gives every appearance of being made up on the hoof.”
We don’t see that anything has changed and we would hope that Councillor Mitchell reflects on her own words and doesn’t perform a U-turn on this busy junction.
We would also hope that Councillor Alan Robins – Labour’s lead on tourism and a member of the ET&S Committee – will recognise the significant risk that this scheme poses to the very industry he is supposed to support and promote.
If Labour doesn’t apply the brakes now, it risks driving our local economy into an easily avoidable crash.
Councillor Lee Wares is the Conservative spokesman on the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee on Brighton and Hove City Council.