The council came under fire for the glacial pace of progress of work to restore the Madeira Terraces.
The criticism was made during a debate last night (Thursday 30 January) about whether to sell buildings or other assets to fund a full restoration of the Victorian seafront structure.
Conservative councillor Dee Simson quoted a Brighton businessman saying: “The council continues to move at a glacial pace.”
She said that she had drawn raffle tickets in support of crowdfunding, adding: “Still all we see down there is dereliction. All the time nothing is done, the terraces continue to rot, get vandalised and look awful.”
The council owned empty properties that were costing money to retain, she said, and which could be sold.
Councillor Simson told the full council, which met at Hove Town Hall: “I know some will call this asset-stripping but surely it is so much more important to have pristine and useable terraces – something that no other town or city has.
“They really are our shop window – just as important as the Royal Pavilion.”
The debate was opened by fellow Conservative councillor Mary Mears who was leader of the council when the seafront bandstand was restored about 10 years ago.
Councillor Mears said: “There is much talk about what the council would like to do – but to date it is all talk.
“And while the talking continues the Madeira Terraces are rapidly falling into major disrepair, not least the Madeira lift, which dates from 1896.
“We hear the concerns from this council as to why they cannot restore the Madeira Terraces yet we are sitting on billions of pounds of assets, some of which do not yield us a useful return.”
She asked officials to prepare a report to be presented to the council’s Policy and Resources Committee on Thursday 19 March, adding: “We have a duty as custodians to ensure we maintain and protect our city’s heritage.
“If we don’t act soon, the opportunity will actually be lost forever.”
Another Conservative councillor, Robert Nemeth, said his party had put forward a motion on the subject “out of sheer frustration”.
Councillor Nemeth said: “It has been over seven years now since the terraces closed and there is still no end in sight.
“There is no agreed design yet, no firm cost figures, no funding solution, no firm timetable and certainly no contractor appointed.
“There have been numerous hopeful moments since the closure in 2012. Funding bids went in. Campaigners petitioned and fundraised in the most passionate way imaginable.
“Other attractions on Madeira Drive such as Sea Lanes, Volk’s Railway and Soho House have made hugely encouraging steps.
“But, invariably, the council’s refusal to consider all options – to make a Plan B as it were – is letting down residents, visitors and neighbouring businesses alike.”
Councillor Nemeth added: “The longer that it takes, the more that it costs. Indeed, 10 tons of lead were stolen over one month back, with estimated repair costs still unreleased – and that’s presumably because the sum is astronomical.
“There is simply no excuse for not looking at options. And there is much precedent for doing so.
“Indeed, the popular 1980s overhaul of the King Alfred, overseen by my colleague Councillor Garry Peltzer Dunn, was funded through the sale of under-used council land.
“They needed to upgrade facilities and they found a way. All options must be considered if we too are to find a way.”
The Labour leader of the council, Nancy Platts, and her predecessor Daniel Yates were among those to criticise the idea of “selling off valuable council assets that bring in an income that helps us invest in public services”.
Councillor Platts said: “It is shortsighted to sell everything off. We are using the crowdfunded money to proceed with the restoration of three of the arches – and we are already putting in a design team for this.
“We all know that the money just isn’t there for the remaining arches.
“Due to the nature of cast-iron arches and the weather conditions, restoration is remarkably expensive.
“We are aware of some intriguing proposals out there for the future of the Madeira Terraces and we call for any report to give those – and potential joint public and private investment schemes – due consideration.
“It’s time we thought outside of the box and considered what other options there are to ensure we reach the collectively desired outcome of rejuvenated seafront and restored arches.
“We can all agree that we don’t want to see the Madeira Terraces become another West Pier so we want to see a report consider a range of options.
“However, we would not advocate the bizarre proposal to strip ourselves of all of our valuable assets to reach that end.
“Selling off assets is a one-time and a one-time only cash-raiser and would do nothing for the long-term maintenance of the arches which would be exponentially costly.”
Councillor Yates derided the proposal to sell premium assets – put forward by Councillor Joe Miller when he stood for the Tories in Brighton Kemptown at the general election last month.
Councillor Yates said: “More than £10 million of the council’s budget is subsidised by the income from the council’s investment property.”
The assets were worth about £200 billion, he said, yielding a return of about 5 per cent, and the income supported schools, parks and transport.
Selling off less valuable sites would not cover the cost of restoring the terraces, he said, adding: “You’d be selling off parks and downland. You’d be selling off the Royal Pavilion, potentially, if we hadn’t already saved it.
“The valuable assets are the ones that are giving us a return. It’s not a practical solution. You would need to sell off sites that we rely on. This is the wrong way to look at it.
“For councillors to say we’ll just sell M&S … Quite clearly we get a good rent out of M&S, don’t we. Quite clearly that’s a high-profile site and that’s the sort of site we want to retain.”
Green councillor Clare Rainey opposed the sale of assets, saying: “We agree that securing funds to ensure the full restoration of the Madeira Terraces needs to be made a priority.
“Watching an iconic, historically significant and much-loved feature, especially one which extends along the entire eastern seafront, slowly falling into disrepair until it is no longer useable is quite frankly a depressing experience.
“The Green group would welcome a report detailing all options available to the council to fund the full restoration of the Madeira Terraces but does not feel the emphasis should be on the sale of public assets.
“The average return on assets far exceeds the cost of borrowing to provide capital – so if the council wants to invest, it may be better to use the income stream from assets to fund borrowing costs.
“This approach would mean that the council would still benefit from any increase in the value of those assets retained.
“The Green group would also like to emphasise that Madeira Terrace needs to be restored not as a standalone project but in a way which takes into account the other developments in the area.”
She added that transport links and services could then be considered and designed for the whole area, resulting in a more joined up plan with savings on costs due to economies of scale.
The Green group convenor Phélim Mac Cafferty said: “It seems the Conservatives love us selling off the family silver because they want everything owned by the private sector.”
He criticised the false hope offered by the council-organised crowdfunder and said that he would not be “going along with Tory asset-stripping”.
But Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “We are not going to let the Madeira Terraces go the same way as the West Pier.”
And he praised the work of Paul Nicholson, of Chalk Architecture, from Brighton, and his idea for a People’s Promenade – along with Boxpark’s vision for the terraces. Boxpark is run by Brighton businessman Roger Wade.
Independent councillor Bridget Fishleigh also suggested looking outside the town hall for help and inspiration.
She said: “We need somebody on board who is experienced in raising millions of pounds and has the right contacts within the heritage restoration industry to drive this project forward.
“Sure, somebody at the council can write this report but I’m pretty sure that that person won’t know how to navigate through the relevant grant bodies, they won’t know how to get money from trusts and through corporate sponsorships and they won’t know the high net worth individuals who have an interest in heritage buildings.
“Rather than commission an internal report the council needs to appoint a fundraiser on a contract basis with a specific brief to identify all the potential sources of funding for the terrace.
“This would produce a far more meaningful and useful fundraising document than can be produced internally.”
The council agreed that officials should prepare a report for the Policy and Resources Committee in March and include an update on “the delivery of the three crowdfunded arches”.
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