The closure of Madeira Drive has hit traders, leaving them unable to pay their rent, decimated parking revenues and marginalised disabled people and their families.
The move has also thrown the future of much-loved historic events into doubt, put jobs and livelihoods at risk and made Brighton a less attractive destination.
But the road on Brighton seafront will not be reopening any time soon.
The criticisms were made at a special council meeting today (Thursday 13 August) as members of Brighton and Hove City Council debated rival petitions.
Those in favour of the closure of Madeira Drive to cars, vans and lorries said that it had effectively been a glorified car park until it was made safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
The Conservatives put forward a compromise solution – making the road one way to allow extra space for cycle lanes and disabled parking – but the proposal was rejected by Labour and the Greens.
The road closure was one of a number of “temporary” measures after the big drop in traffic during the coronavirus lockdown and was aimed at encouraging walking and cycling.
Trevor Archard, who runs a café in Madeira Drive, addressed the “virtual” meeting of the full council on behalf of fellow traders, the Brighton Tourism Alliance, the Palace Pier and Brighton Marina.
Mr Archard said that traders faced financial ruin and were unable to pay their rent.
And tourists, who chose to drive because train fares for a family were too expensive, would be put off visiting Brighton because they would not be able to find anywhere to park.
Those parking in Marine Parade, he said, would have to walk down 84 steep steps to reach Madeira Drive. This would be hard for families with young children and wheelchair users.
Mr Archard said: “The traders want to make it clear we are very keen to work with the council in the future to assist with their plans.
“Perhaps see fully pedestrianised areas of the road – but only when improvements have been put in place to make the road safe, accessible and attractive.”
Mods and rockers – once rivals on Brighton seafront – have been united in their latest battle … to reopen Madeira Drive to all.
In support of their campaign, Ollie Wilson, a scooter rider from Hove, and Laura King, of the Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission, presented a petition of more than 10,000 signatures.
Mr Wilson said: “We welcome the council’s decision last month to continue to allow official motoring events.
“However, the ongoing closure puts into doubt the unofficial August bank holiday weekender which attracts thousands of mods and has brought in millions of pounds to our city.”
Ms King said that a few people were trying to close the road as a “stepping stone” to making the centre of Brighton car-free without carrying out the legally required consultations.
She said: “The great width and length of Madeira Drive has been deemed suitable for exclusive use by cyclists and pedestrians.
“This is not inclusivity and many of them prefer to stick to the existing pathway and pavement.”
Adult learning business boss Ian Ross presented a petition of almost 3,000 signatures in favour of keeping the road closed.
Mr Ross, from Kemp Town, said that just because cars and other vehicles had always used Madeira Drive, did not mean that it was a reason to keep it that way.
He said: “Is providing a glorified car park in Madeira Drive making the most of this historic gem in the crown jewels of our city?
“I would say not. We have a real opportunity to do something different with Madeira Drive rather than turning it back into a seafront car park with a return of vehicle emissions and pollution.”
Green councillor Pete West, who chairs the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee, said that the road was closed in response to government guidance.
The guidance was aimed at encouraging people to take daily exercise during lockdown and had proved popular.
He said: “We are mindful that the pandemic is not yet over and, as cases of covid are rising again around the country, there is a very real possibility of further local lockdowns as we head into the autumn.
“It is perhaps therefore premature to be looking to end this emergency measure just yet.”
Independent councillor Bridget Fishleigh asked about disabled parking spaces, having had contact with a new organisation, Brighton Access for Disabled Groups (BADGE).
The group was formed in response to the Madeira Drive closure to campaign on issues faced by blue badge holders.
Councillor Fishleigh asked councillors how they would feel if they had to ask a marshal at the barrier by the Concorde 2 to use the toilet which was a 20-minute walk away.
She and another independent councillor, the former Conservative group leader Tony Janio, called for a proper environmental impact assessment but their move was lost.
Conservative councillor Lee Wares said: “It is not right for blue badge holders to be packed off down to Black Rock.
“It is not right that our traders are abandoned. The council declares financial distress but is switching off millions in parking revenue.”
Councillor Wares said that Brighton and Hove should be welcoming to visitors and the council should do what it could to support the city.
Councillor Miller said that any long-term change should be made after proper consultation, not as a reaction to covid.
Labour councillor Gary Wilkinson said that the covid crisis would end but there was still a climate crisis.
He said that as a child he had played in a cobbled street which was then covered in asphalt, allowing cars to travel faster.
Councillor Wilkinson said: “It has been so refreshing to see children playing and cycling in Madeira Drive and people walking and cycling.
“The initiative to close Madeira Drive is a potential game-changer. Political courage is needed. It is about what we all do together.
“We must give people an option before we encourage them to take their own first step towards active travel.”
The new Green council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty said that he would speak to interest groups about the continued closure and potential reopening of Madeira Drive.
He said that in his first three weeks as leader of the new Green administration, he had met with several groups and organisations and would meet more in the coming weeks.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said that members of the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee would review the covid-19 transport plan at its next meeting on Tuesday 29 September.
He said: “We should accept that this is about a discussion, acknowledging that what is here may not be perfect now – it was an urgent decision made in the middle of a pandemic – and being prepared to flex and change.
“We especially need to make sure that any plan explicitly works to include our most marginalised communities, such as those with disabilities, and we meaningfully engage with traders, as much as those using Madeira Drive for outdoor exercise.”
Councillor Mac Cafferty said that at the moment the council did not know when the pandemic would end and how long space would be needed for socially distant exercise.
He added: “I think we all agree that no one thought this area worked brilliantly before. We need to acknowledge that a vision to futureproof Madeira Drive is what the city needs at this time.
“There is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvigorate this prominent part of the city through a strategic masterplan.”
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