Campaigners calling for a fresh consultation into a major traffic project hope that they have support from the people holding the purse strings.
Members of the Valley Gardens Forum, which includes representatives from businesses, residents, the tourism industry and entertainment venues, met today (Tuesday 21 May) to discuss their next steps.
The group hopes that Brighton and Hove City Council will listen to them after the local enterprise partnership (LEP) Coast to Capital imposed conditions involving the forum before a funding agreement for the scheme can be signed off.
The conditions include asking for a written assurance that the forum’s comments are responded to and that engagement will continue with its members.
Coast to Capital has offered £6 million towards the cost of the Valley Gardens phase 3 project, with an extra £1.2 million coming from the council.
Phase 3 involves replacing the Aquarium roundabout with traffic lights by the Palace Pier and making the western end of Madeira Drive one way, with no exit by the pier.
The money cannot be used for any other purpose.
The group has started legal action against Brighton and Hove City Council and is entering mediation in an attempt to reopen the consultation into changing the road layout from Victoria Gardens to the Old Steine.
Forum member Daniel Nathan said: “It is unfortunate it took the threat of legal action to elicit positive engagement from the council.
“The purpose of mediation is not about what went before but to think about what is in front of us.”
He said that there was little disagreement about the broad aspirations of the project but he added: “It wasn’t ideal how this was rushed.
“It’s never too late. Things are not set in stone. We need to look at the decisions taken and if they were taken with adequate information.”
Adrian Bristow, producer at the Spiegeltent, said that he was frustrated at the level of consultation and was concerned about the loss of event space.
He said: “To me it’s perfectly simple. If you’re planning an area, you talk to all the relevant sectors, find out their interests and requirement and come up with their issues and discuss it in a forum before you discuss preferred plans.
“What has gone so very wrong is this transport department has unilaterally come up with their preferred option, which no one I know prefers.”
Green councillor Pete West, whose St Peter’s and North Laine ward includes the first two phases of the project to redesign the road layout, said that he had proposed that the member and stakeholder working group was reinstated.
He hopes that the new Labour administration, with Councillor Anne Pissaridou chairing the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee, will agree to his suggestion.
This was not enough for forum members who wanted a pause and reconsultation.
Conservative councillor Lee Wares told the group that he had repeatedly asked for a pause in proceedings to listen to people, but without success.
He said that 65 per cent of people who responded to the consultation did not want the Aquarium roundabout scrapped.
Councillor Wares also signed a joint letter with Green councillor Tom Druitt and former Labour councillor Adrian Morris calling for a pause.
He said: “For months before this group came together we’ve been asking for this to be paused. Unless there is a change in direction in administration, who are the ones who tell Geoff Raw (the council chief executive) and Nick Hibberd (executive director for economy, environment and culture) what to do.
“Unless there’s a change in that, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself and the petition will get kicked out as well.”
A petition set up by the Valley Gardens Forum calling for a pause has more than 1,200 signaturesyou.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/the-heart-of-your-city-is-under-threat-have-your-say.
Members of the forum said that the petition had been signed by more people than responded to the council’s consultation.
More than 800 responses were received by the council, which was described as good by both councillors West and Wares.
Councillor Wares told the forum that the new Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee would include four Labour, four Green and two Conservative councillors.
He said that he hoped to persuade one Labour member and the Greens to join with him and support a “proper consultation”.
He was supported by newly elected Independent councillor Bridget Fishleigh, who is concerned about the impact on the wider city, particularly the need to redesign the Duke’s Mound junction.
The Rottingdean Coastal ward councillor was happy to support the forum with plans to write to every member of the Environment, Sustainability and Transport Committee calling for a pause of up to 12 weeks.
A Labour group spokesperson said: “Once the new chair of Environment Transport and Sustainability Committee is in post, then they will be happy to have an opportunity to meet with the forum.”
Brighton and Hove City Council was asked how it was progressing with the LEP’s request for a response to the forum’s concerns and presenting the group’s concerns to the relevant committees.
In response the council said: “The council’s Environment Transport and Sustainability Committee took the decision in October 2018 to consult the public on its preferred option for phase 3 of the Valley Gardens scheme.
“In February 2019 the committee approved the final preliminary design which was based on the preferred option.
“Councillors carefully considered and took into account the results of the public consultation when making the decision and there will be further public consultation and stakeholder engagement in relation to the detailed design.
“The council has carried out transparent consultation and will continue to engage with all stakeholders and the wider public to ensure the success of this project.
“Valley Gardens phase 3 is funded primarily by the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership which is providing £6 million of Local Growth Fund money.
“The council has agreed the terms of a funding agreement and we look forward to signing that agreement soon.
“The Valley Gardens project aims to improve the environment, open space and travel experience for people using the green spaces, roads and pavements from St Peter’s Church to the Palace Pier.
“When complete the project will improve road safety and ease of movement through the area, as well as create an exciting and attractive destination for visitors to spend time in with new landscaping, planting and public squares.”
The forum’s petition will go before the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee when it meets on Tuesday 25 June.