Time to clear the air over the Valley Gardens project

This is an open letter to Councillor Pete West, the Green opposition spokesman on the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee.

The Amex Area Neighbourhood Action Forum is a resident group made up of a good many Green and Labour party and “independent” ward voters.

It is also one of a number of groups, businesses and individuals who comprise the Valley Gardens Forum (VGF).

We have learnt of a certain prejudice among councillors and officials that presumes the VGF to be a number of things it is not.

These prejudices need to be jettisoned quickly if the Greens are to retain their vital role in scrutinising the current administration.

The VGF is neither “a Tory battering ram” against party rivals nor a “pro-car lobby” or a gaggle of interest groups solely concerned about profit over environment. Far from it.

At the Amex Area Neighbourhood Action Forum, we have come to view the history of the VGF campaign as, politically speaking, something of a teachable moment.

At the beginning, the likes of Tom Druitt (Green) and Adrian Morris (Labour) were signatories to its first letter to Brighton and Hove City Council warning of the consequences of “phase 3” of the Valley Gardens project in its current form.

Since then, Brighton’s characteristically tribal politics required these voices to go silent and others (those of MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Councillor Jackie O’Quinn) to step away from the campaign almost as soon as they’d stepped on board.

Today, the fact that the VGF has the support of just two councillors (Conservative councillor Lee Wares and Independent councillor Bridget Fishleigh) speaks to the tragedy of an issue crying out for a cross-party focus which has instead gone down the road of partisan, blinkered politicking.

In June last year you said: “My understanding is that the current impasse [our emphasis] is actually putting the funding of the project and therefore the project itself at risk, as it has to be delivered by … March 2021 – and we have already lost six months towards that.”

But the facts have changed.

  • We now know that the deadline of March 2021 for completion of Valley Gardens phase 3 (VG3) has been extended by up to five years.
  • We can also detect evidence that this final stage of the VG project – a progressive vision we all support (fewer cars, cleaner air, safer and enhanced spaces to walk and cycle, etc) – has been rushed. A number of vital details appear to have been approached with breathtaking incompetence.
  • There is evidence that senior officers may have been less than transparent with the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee and many of us feel the Labour administration has relied far too heavily on officer assurances that everything will be ok.

Adding these three points together, we feel it’s high time that Green Party councillors reviewed their unswerving support for VG3 in its current form and, in particular, reviewed their undying support for the “come hell or high water” stance of councillors Anne Pissaridou and Nancy Platts that an “environmental impact assessment” (EIA) is not necessary.

We assume that by “impasse” you were referring to our campaign (although we suspect you forget that everyday citizens, as local residents and workers, are a vital part of the VGF).

But you went on to say, “and it is the express wish of the Valley Gardens Forum, as I understand it, not to jeopardise the project – but that is exactly what is happening because of their legal action and the delays that have been caused by that”.

A visualisation of the traffic junction planned for the Aquarium roundabout

Please remember that the VGF offered and paid for legal mediation between it and the council despite the administration having previously agreed to pay its share. It subsequently did not follow through on most of the actions agreed by senior officers at that meeting.

You were operating on the assumption of a fast-approaching deadline. Indeed, by October’s full council meeting – at which all Labour and Green councillors voted against an EIA bar councillors Druitt and Phillips who abstained – you very clearly held sway on the matter.

You said: “The obsessing by the Tories over keeping an unsafe roundabout and the vexatious concern about air quality is misinformation and scaremongering and really misses the point entirely.”

So, to conclude, the AANAF and doubtless all the 27 entities making up the VGF (and, we imagine, the 1,500 local citizens who signed the Change.org petition) are content that you should speak your mind about your Conservative Party rivals but absolutely object that you caricature our opposition to the, frankly, daft proposals as merely a play by political opponents.

Come on, Councillor West! Even the council’s own consultants warn against the removal of the Aquarium roundabout as a recipe for traffic congestion.

Given that there is no March 2021 deadline (the deadline was a “fact” upon which you urged Green colleagues to follow your lead), we feel that you must now accept you have a democratic duty to review the facts.

John Maynard Keynes said: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir? When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir? When someone persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?”

It’s true, you may well doggedly “feel” that irrespective of deadlines or any urgency to get on with an imperfect project, the VGF and other citizen opposition to it is just plain wrong.

Fair enough. But this is all the more reason for the Green Party to apply scrutiny and substantiate its enthusiastic support for the current VG3 proposals by unequivocally supporting the call for an independent environmental and economic impact assessment.

Labour may want to turn its back on democracy but will the Green Party – now it knows deadlines are not a threat – continue to shun this demand?

Adrian Hart and Serena Burt are the co-chairs of the Amex Area Neighbourhood Action Forum.

  1. John Stephenson Reply

    If the contractors continue to work at night outside people’s homes then there might be a people’s revolt against the project! We’d also like to see where the Council QA team are! Also cars are already parking on the extended pavement and with bikes flying down the pavement, the elderly are in panic about their safety!
    China build a hospital in less than a week – Brighton takes 5 years to re-structure a road plan! So many men watching another man actually doing some work. Come on Council this is not on!

  2. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    This abysmal piece goes on and and on – but what is it saying? What are the details to which this group objects? Nothing is mentioned. The writers have not considered those who might read it. This is an object lesson in how not to approach a subject – perhaps the result of being written by that committee of two.

    • Martin Spencer Reply

      The piece would appear to be calling (yet again) for a much-needed environmental assessment. It’s surprising and inexplicable that you couldn’t at least register that message Christopher. Details have been covered time and again in earlier representations. The number one objection in case you haven’t noticed it yet is the replacement of the roundabout by the pier with traffic lights, which would bring unacceptable congestion and further damage air quality – which is already dreadful in the area. I by the way have never attended a VGF meeting, and have never met either of the authors, I am just a resident of Brighton who wants to see better results in terms of congestion and air quality. It is not just a ‘committee of two’ that objects to the stupidities of the current proposal.

  3. Billy Short Reply

    This open letter is basically saying what a lot of us feel, namely that phase three of the Valley Gardens Scheme is being bulldozed through without proper planning, consultation, or common sense.
    It’s being led by ideology and the need to ‘get the funding at all costs’ rather than with the true needs of the city in mind.
    Those raising concerns about basic issues such as removing the Palace Pier roundabout are dismissed as being part of a ‘car lobby’. And this letter specifically questions the way in which the scheme has been allowed to become a political football when traffic flow and cycle lanes and bus routes are issues which affect us all.

  4. Rolivan Reply

    I think that this project will now be shut down as will others whilst The Government decides what restrictions will be put on the workforce.
    I just hope that Cityclean will be able to carryout its duties which will be even more difficult if more and more people are required to self isolate and eat at home which will create more garbage.

  5. Rob Heale Reply

    Unfortunately, the “Green” Party started the plans for the Valley Gardens Scheme back in 2014/15 and they failed to consult with the people of Brighton and Hove. They seemed to want to impose the scheme on us. Similarly the Seven Dials Scheme, parts of which were opposed by two-thirds of people. Also, the “Green” Party has constantly opposed plans for a Park and Ride Scheme, which is a tried and tested way of reducing traffic congestion/encouraging the use of public transport.

    • Christopher Hawtree Reply

      The Valley Gardens proposal goes back to 2006, under Labour. The Seven Dials roundabout has much improved a blighted area – and people now like it. Park and Ride has been proposed many times, and each time it has been shown that there is no site for it – and, in fact, it would encourage cross-town traffic.

      • Rolivan Reply

        As I have said before the Carpark at the Amex Stadium would make a brillant site built as a multi storey with a Coach Station Incorporated and get rid of Pool Valley which is not fit for purpose.The Park and Rides at Merrow in Guildford and the one as you enter Portsmouth are well used.

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