A new group has been set up for residents, businesses and other local organisations concerned about controversial plans for a congested area being pushed through by Brighton and Hove City Council.
The Valley Gardens Forum describes itself as “a group of central Brighton residents, public sector organisations and businesses, large and small, sharing concerns about the council’s current plans for the city centre”.
The group includes residents’ groups, the two main central doctors’ surgeries, the combined taxi trade, the Palace Pier, the Royal Albion Hotel, the North Laine Traders Association, the Seafront Traders Association, The Lanes Traders Group, the Spiegeltent, the organisers of all major outdoor events in the Valley Gardens area, Brighton’s two biggest English language colleges, several independent Brighton restaurants, pubs, music venues and others.
Among the rest are members of the “knowledge intensive business sector” (KIBS) such as surveyors, solicitors, radio producers, graphic designers, record labels, estate agents, digital start ups and more.
The Valley Gardens scheme was originally conceived as a way of enhancing access to the city centre with a shared ambition to improve the environment and enhance the local economy.
The outline scheme was widely discussed and had been broadly accepted by the community, the forum said.
But, it said, a more detailed “phase 3”, developed by consultants with council officers and presented three months ago, shatters that consensus. This involves changes to the Old Steine area, including the replacement of the Aquarium roundabout with traffic lights, including no exit from Madeira Drive.
The forum said: “Nobody would argue that Brighton doesn’t have a problem with traffic congestion and resulting air and noise pollution. However, the council’s current plans would make this demonstrably worse.
“In fact, it presents a deliberate policy of making it more difficult to visit a city dependent on its visitor and services economy.
“There is no evidence in the current council-approved ‘business case’ that the big picture and the broadest range of impacts on the economy, local environment and people’s livelihoods have been considered at all.
“At a time when local services are starved of resources and existing public infrastructure is not being adequately maintained, Brighton and Hove City Council also need to win the argument that £8 million of public money should be devoted to the scheme in the first place.
“There’s a very real risk that by deliberately making driving into Brighton more problematic without providing a viable alternative, there’ll be fewer visitors to the centre and also fewer locals from outlying suburbs and beyond too.
“Thirty six per cent of out of town visitors arrive in Brighton in a private vehicle – spending around £300 million (out of a total of £837 million) per annum. Over 21,000 local jobs are supported by the tourist economy.
“Assuming a modest 5 per cent drop in visitor numbers as an unintended consequence of reducing vehicle numbers – that would result in a £15 million annual hit to the economy with job losses inevitable.
“This statistic doesn’t even factor the likely transfer of jobs to neighbouring towns in Sussex as local residents in outlying districts of Brighton choose to drive and shop in Crawley, Eastbourne, Shoreham or even Bluewater in Dartford as opposed to our own city centre.
“Beyond the question of access to homes, public sector and commercial premises, there’s the overarching issue of environmental and economic damage that the current scheme will cause if not revised.
“Getting Valley Gardens right – relying a little less on computer models and a little more upon the wider community – will create a legacy to be proud of.
“Getting it wrong could break the city, destroying thousands of people’s livelihoods.
“The purpose of this forum is to encourage councillors and officers to re-engage with the community they serve. We urge them – and you – to join us.”