Pier boss buys Engineerium in Hove

Posted On 22 Apr 2022 at 12:05 am

The British Engineerium in Hove has been bought by one of biggest shareholders in the company that owns the Palace Pier in Brighton.

Luke Johnson, 60, who chairs the Brighton Pier Group, has bought the Victorian Engineerium and plans to use the site as “a cutting-edge centre for wellbeing”.

The landmark building – a 19th century water pumping station – has been bought in partnership with a local resident, Paul Dolan, 53.

Professor Dolan and Mr Johnson, who studied medicine when he started as a student at Oxford University, aim to create “a cutting-edge centre designed to promote health, happiness and wellbeing in the community”.

The old engineering and steam power museum, comprising a number of buildings on a two-and-a-half-acre site by Hove Park, was sold by local property developer Mike Holland, 74.

The new owners said that the “multi-use development will comprise co-working spaces, recreation and leisure facilities and a centre for research into what makes us happy”.

Mr Johnson said: “Our aim with the Engineerium is to bring the public, private and third sectors together to establish a centre that puts wellbeing at the heart of its operations, and will seek to foster opportunities to improve happiness in the local community and beyond.”

Professor Dolan said: “Over the next few years, the Engineerium will play a central role in showing how we can develop happier and more resilient communiites, and, through our accompanying research, we will investigate the key determinants of what really makes us happy.”

Mr Johnson is an entrepreneur and investor, with notable investments in travel and hospitality, healthcare and leisure.

He is the former chairman of Channel 4 Television and owns a £10 million stake – or more than 25 per cent of the shares – in the Brighton Pier Group.

Paul Dolan

Professor Dolan has been described as “one of the world’s foremost academics in the field of behavioural science and wellbeing”.

He is the bestselling author of Happiness by Design and Happy Ever After.

Luke Johnson

  1. Chris Reply

    Is there any intention to open the old pumping hall as an attraction – or doesn’t that sort of thing attract anyone anymore? I can remember it being open as a museum and the pumps working as an exhibit, that must be about 30 years ago. Is the machinery still there, or was it all removed years ago?

    • Some Guy Reply

      The whole reason it’s been going through this process is the low visitorship as a museum.

    • Joe Makepeace Reply

      The big steam engine was recently put up for auction!

  2. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    I thought part of the reason it got Planning Permission was its exhibition of machinery (not that one had any hopes of Holland fulfilling anything, just his takeover of Insight magazine doomed it). This new proposal sounds vague.

    • Mike Dixon Reply

      It’s fantastic that this lovely old building is going to be put to good purpose, helping to develop a happier, healthier and more resilience population.
      Professor Paul Dolan’s book Happiness By Design is a superb book. Having worked as a mental health practitioner for 45 years I’m delighted that action is being taken to promote mental health and well-being 🙂

  3. Clive Bonny Reply

    Good news for an important historical site which had several million pounds invested as a visitor and educational attraction. Potential to bring more visitor revenues to Brighton and demonstrate our legacy in design and engineering

  4. Huw Reply

    Would make great trendy apartments. I am moving down from London and got excited for a moment

  5. Jon Silver Reply

    In a world where we need science, technology and engineering to meet the challenges of the present and future, we’re promoting wellness and “happiness” ahead of celebrating a rich heritage of engineering achievements and inspiring future generations of engineers. Jonathan Minns would be turning in his grave if he could see all his hard work squandered in this way.

    • Chris Heape Reply

      Yes, there seems to be no mention of engineering, what will happen to the engines and associated gems??

    • chris Heape Reply

      With you on that one, perhaps the science museum could advise, for schools and everyone else, to have engineering, and water technology accessible to understand. Also illustrate Victorian achievements, ideas and social facts. I hope the collection is still intact, and being looked after.

  6. BAHTAG Reply

    To those familiar with several years of observing Town & Country Planning in our City the above spiel by a developer will be regrettably familiar!

    Time and again questionable Planning Applications squeak past the insufficiently critical and naïve Councillors of our Council’s Planning Committee!

    And then most of these bold promises just turn to dust, and for a variety of pathetic reasons (most of which could have been uncovered by a more questioning Planning Committee, and which would usually have formed powerful grounds for refusing Planning Permission!).

    A couple of examples are the original Wembley-style arches for the Amex Stadium, which were set at such an acute angle they could only have been built at an extravagant cost with incredibly deep foundations (due to the great thickness & weight of the steel needed to make such arches ‘self-supporting’ at such an acute angle!).

    And then there’s the i360 – so many broken promises; such as a tower looking like a grey factory-chimney, no wind-turbine, and (worst of all?) no Planning Condition requiring a fully-engineered and costed Demolition Plan, with an indexed Bank Guarantee in favour of BHCC being required to cover demolition and site clearance costs for when the operator fails and the ride cannot be used (most likely due to major inspection and maintenance costs to ensure passenger safety – likely to amount to millions of pounds?).

    Doubtless other observers will have other sad litanies of Planning Conditions and/or developers promises not being implemented?

    Even the much-vaunted PFI Jubilee Library has failed to live up to the Council’s bombastic boasts of ‘Zero Nett Energy’ input averaged over a full year.

    And just note, from aerial images, the puny amount of PV solar panels on the very large roof area of the Library (a negative situation sadly repeated on far too many other Council properties)!

    There are so many beneficial things for our Councillors to be getting on with, instead of obsessing about vehicles lawfully using the A23 & A259 roads which happen to run through our City (with no political party appearing to be promoting the provision of better alternative routes for that traffic!).

    Indeed, if the anti-vehicle campaigners go into the Lanes, with their eyes and minds open, on a sunny Saturday they’ll see that years of traffic-calming actions have already created a quasi de facto traffic-free zone; in that the large numbers of pedestrians walking on the carriageways mean that the few vehicles that dare to venture into the labyrinth of The Lanes simply have to give priority to people!

    Hence Councillors really, really, need to put utopian dogma aside, to at long last get down to the nuts-and-bolts of running a decent municipality (however dull and un-exciting that daily grass-roots work might be for the Council’s more senior officers!), surely?

  7. Steve Peake Reply

    I can understand why people are distrustful of property developers, but I’m inclined to keep an open mind for the time being.

    As others have observed, the Museum was not working commercially, so no amount of romantic nostalgia is going to make an engineering museum a viable proposition going forwards.

    A well-being / happiness centre seems much more in line with the contemporary culture of B&H and Prof Dolan looks like a highly credible academic in this sector. Luke Johnson’s commercial background in the arts, given the arts’ massive contribution to happiness and wellbeing, to say nothing of the economy of B&H, is also grounds for cautious optimism.

    People are right to say that planning Cllrs should be ultra-vigilant and the example of the i360 is a poignant one. How on earth that got the green light is beyond me. Utter fiasco.

  8. John Osborn Reply

    The Engineerium is like any preserved site with intact victorian era steam engines, incredibly valuable. Further liaison by interested heritage groups with the owners of the property is needed now, to initiate any actions to save equipment that might otherwise be lost. However, one would suspect that the new owners are obliged to retain original interior fittings as part of the heritage listing.

  9. pete Reply

    All the council will be interested in is how much they can charge for parking to pour into some other potty idea

  10. Kevin Leahy Reply

    Apart from this news article I can’t find any reference to the proposals anywhere else. I thought I would find references to this elsewhere as it all sounds very interesting and worthy of attention. This vacuum makes me feel slightly suspicious. Has anyone else seen any publicity apart from this article?

    • Jo Makepeace Reply

      Just the news about the steam engine being auctioned off turning up in the Argus (and Yahoo news).

  11. chris Heape Reply

    The city is overflowing with ‘wellness’ ventures, all very well, but surely there is room for other educational ideas. Please keep ‘academics’ out of this.

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