Transport bosses in Brighton and Hove are being urged to pause and look again at plans to scrap the Aquarium roundabout in front of the Palace Pier in Brighton.
The project to scrap the roundabout and make other changes to the road layout in the Old Steine area will cost the local economy £17 million, according to an estimate by Brighton and Hove City Council.
The estimate was reached when drawing up the council’s business case which is due to be discussed by the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) tomorrow (Tuesday 22 January).
The council is asking the LEP for £6 million towards the £7.5 million project costs, to be drawn down by the end of March 2021.
The plea for a pause and a rethink comes in a motion which is due to be debated by the full council when it meets on Thursday 31 January.
The motion has been proposed by Councillor Lee Wares, who speaks for the Conservatives on the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee.
The committee has been overseeing the project, known as Valley Gardens, which is intended to improve the area between St Peter’s Church and the seafront.
Work has started on phase 1 and phase 2 of the scheme from St Peter’s to the top end of the Old Steine area.
But agreement about phase 3 – from the top of the Old Steine area to the seafront – has been harder to reach.
There has been growing anger among businesses and residents that the council is about to make a costly mistake which could damage Brighton’s economy for a generation or more..
Critics fear that the £17 million cost to the local economy – as estimated by the council – will be paid in lost jobs and business closures, which will have a knock-on effect on the council’s own finances.
They have also picked up on the extra traffic jams which are factored into the business case for phase 3 and said that these will make pollution worse.
Councillor Wares said: “As opposed to Valley Gardens phase 3 being a project to regenerate the Old Steine, it has now become a social engineering project designed deliberately to deter residents from using motor vehicles and force them on to public transport.
“The present scheme proposes significant delays to vehicle journeys along the A259 – the business case estimates a £17 million cost to the economy – and takes little regard of the negative economic impact on tourism and businesses as articulated by many in the tourist industry and other stakeholders as well as the flight of revenue from the city by residents choosing to drive to neighbouring towns.
“A ‘T’ junction would force taxis and visitor coaches to make long round trips via Duke’s Mound to the detriment of operating costs and increases passenger costs and time.
“Additionally, bus movements become more cumbersome and make bus passenger journeys more difficult.
“There is no future-proofing or accommodation of major developments taken into account such as the revival of the Madeira Terraces – or the Waterfront scheme and its need for mass people movement and appropriate transportation.
“No consideration has been given to the A259 having been included on the major road network.
“The proposed project has a shortfall in funding with about £600,000 now required from the private sector for which no certainty exists.
“There are no plans or funding for dealing with knock-on impacts such as egress from Duke’s Mound.
“Significant opposition has been expressed by a wide range of interested parties of which no account has been taken to deal with the concerns since the present scheme was conceived prior to the first public consultation.”
The motion going before the full council when it meets next Thursday (31 January) requests that the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee “urgently revisits the Valley Gardens phase 3 proposal with a view to providing a revised scheme that retains the Aquarium roundabout, maintains entry and exit from Madeira Drive on to the roundabout and separates general traffic on the east side of the Old Steine and public transport on the west side”.
It also asks that the committee “explores the use of surplus capital funds made available by (retaining the Aquarium roundabout) to create improved cycling and pedestrian connectivity between the wider Valley Gardens area and the seafront without the need to channel all modes of movement through the Aquarium roundabout junction”.
The motion also asks that the committee pauses planning work on the project preferred option 1 and bring the proposals in paragraphs 1 & 2 to a special meeting of Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee at the earliest opportunity but in any event, no later than the end of March 2019.
Councillor Lee Wares said: “We welcome the proposed regeneration of the Old Steine area as part of the Valley Gardens project.
“From the very beginning we expressed grave concern over Labour’s proposals that will bring significant economic harm to the city.
“We tried to change the plans at Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee but were voted down by Labour and the Greens.
“Over the last month or so there has been a growing coalition of businesses, industry sectors, residents and other stakeholders echoing the concerns we raised and now being represented via a new group called the Valley Gardens Forum.
“We are delighted that Labour and Green councillors have now joined the chorus of those opposed to the present scheme and we are happy to work with them.
“Our motion to be put before council on the Thursday 31 January provides an opportunity for three things.
“Firstly it will give all councillors the chance to vote on a project that will have a lasting and wideranging impact on the city for decades to come.
“Secondly it provides the chance to revisit the scheme and review better cycling and pedestrian connections without having to navigate through the Aquarium roundabout.
“And thirdly, it requests a pause on the project while revised plans are prepared, financing of the project is reconsidered and better consultation and stakeholder involvement takes place.”
At the last meeting of the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee, the chair, Labour councillor Gill Mitchell, said: “The design that has been published for consultation is at an early, preliminary stage and provides an indication of how the area may look and operate in the future.
“Further details of road layouts and parking and loading and ranking and the location of street furniture and trees and bus stops will be subject to change and conversation as the scheme’s design develops.”