A £7 million scheme to change the road layout at the Aquarium roundabout and Old Steine has been approved despite widespread concerns spelt out by business leaders and tourism bosses.
The scheme – phrase three of the Valley Gardens project – will replace the roundabout with traffic lights, give more space to pedestrians and help the flow of public transport through the busy area.
Brighton and Hove City Council hopes to receive £6 million towards the cost from the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
The council’s Ennvironment, Transport and Sustainability Committee approved the business plan.
Members of the committee questioned officers about the proposed changes to the road layout in the city centre and the project costs.
The idea behind the scheme is to simplify the road layout, improve the environment and landscaping, as well as developing Valley Gardens as a city centre park.
The project is expected to cost £7.25 million with £1.25 million provided by the council.
Councillors criticised the officers’ report because different costs appeared throughout the papers varying from £7.25 million to £7.85 million.
They were told that the budget was £7.25 million but costs were changing as the design changed and could potentially reach £7.85 million.
Conservative councillors criticised the accuracy of the report for the changing amounts.
Councillors were told that once it was completed in 2021, the report said that the scheme was expected to deliver £7.81 million in economic benefits over a 20-year period.
Labour councillor Gill Mitchell, who chairs the committee, said that after the consultation any revisions would go before them on Tuesday 22 January.
Conservative councillor Lee Wares asked to what extent the plans could be fundamentally changed after business and tourism leaders in the city shared their concerns about the project.
He said: “We are talking about option one being tweaked.
“For many people that is a massive issue – for the doctors and taxi drivers.”
Nick Hibberd, the council’s executive director of economy, environment and culture services, said that the business case was not dependent on the design.
The business case had an anticipated 44 per cent reduction in the number of collisions/casualties over a 60-year period, which Councillor Wares said was minimal, with one pedestrian casualty in the past five years.
Councillor Wares was also critical of a line in the business case stating that the Palace Pier, Royal Pavilion, Royal Albion Hotel and Sea-Life Centre would benefit from the scheme.
In their letters they said that they were not against improvements but called for a full review of the scheme and “genuine stakeholder consultation”.
They said that the scheme would create a bottleneck at the Old Steine and creates less free-flowing traffic.
The chair of the Tourism Alliance has separately raised concerns.
He said: “It is dangerous stating the likes of the Palace Pier benefits when we have had a representative saying the opposite.
“We cannot make a statement that is fundamentally untrue when the people we mention are saying the opposite.”
Before the meeting councillors received a letter from 17 businesses in the area, including the Palace Pier and Royal Albion Hotel saying the scheme would damage their business.
He was told national modelling methods followed by officers showed that visitor numbers would increase.
Mr Hibberd said that the comments and deputations made to the committee would all be part of the consultation process and separate from the business case.
Councillor Wares proposed an amendment asking the council to look at a different option, known as option three, with public transport on the west side, in front of the Royal Pavilion and remove the Aquarium roundabout from the project.
He said: “We should abandon the crazy idea of making Madeira Drive a one-way street.
“It will improve our business case to the government and we will get the business case we want.”
The amendment was seconded by fellow Conservative Joe Miller, who described himself as never thinking he would “agree with the GMB” yet did after taxi trade representative Andy Peters criticised the plans.
Councillors voted six to four against the amendment, with Labour and Green members voting together.
Green councillor Leo Littman asked if there was a strict timetable to the process to be told the LEP wanted a timetable for delivering the project.
Councillors voted through the plan with Labour and Green voting together six to four in favour.
The public consultation ended on Sunday (25 November) with a report coming to the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee on Tuesday 22 January.