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There was great excitement in the late 1960s when old homes in Brighton were pulled down so a new shopping centre could be built.
For months, shoppers wondered what would be revealed when high boards surrounding the site of Churchill Square were taken down, but when the centre was unveiled in 1968, it was a grievous disappointment. Only one half was completed and the rest did not open until 1972.
The Square was a gigantic commercial cul-de-sac. Plans for a cascade of shops down to the sea never materialised, although eventually there was a hard-to-find pedestrian link to the Brighton Centre.
An open air cafe was built but, instead of offering views of the seafront, all that was visible was the undeveloped second half of the centre.
The whole site was filled with forbidding slabs of concrete typified by an ugly sculpture called the Spirit of Brighton.
More than 70 shops occupied the site including branches of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and the Co-Op. But they were all crammed at the back of the Square and did not last long.
Shops such as British Home Stores fared better but some of them moved from further along Western Road, depressing trade there.
Over the shops a large new regional centre for the Post Office was built, while below them were unappealing multi-storey car parks.
On the west side, a tall block of flats called Chartwell Court was constructed. A second matching block in West Street was envisaged but never built.
Churchill Square had been planned since the 1930s but was held up by the Second World War. It was envisaged by architect Sir Hugh Casson who had been largely responsible for the Festival of Britain.
At one time there were plans to demolish the Grand Hotel but these were rejected after a public inquiry. Houses demolished to make way for the shops were regarded as slums at the time. Today they would have been listed buildings in an area vying with North Laine in popularity.
It proved to be one of the last open-air malls to be built in Britain and was dated before it was finished. Subsequent centres, such as the Arndale in Eastbourne, were covered.
Named after the wartime prime minister who was a freeman of Brighton, Churchill Square lasted less than 30 years before it was demolished.
Brighton Council promoted a redevelopment by selling the freehold to Standard Life and work started on the new covered square in 1996.
Although it was unadventurous architecturally, the development represented a real risk for Standard Life at a time when out-of-town shopping malls were all the rage.
However, it paid off and ensured that Brighton has the biggest shopping centre in the south east apart from London.
Churchill Square has attracted 13 million visitors annually since it reopened in 1998. By using top class building materials, Standard Life ensured it wore well.
There have been plans for years to put another layer of shops on the top that would finance the building of a new Brighton Centre, but this involves complicated talks between the council and landowners, including Standard Life, Rank, the Grand and the Metropole Hotels.
Brighton seems stuck with the current shopping centre for years to come. Bland though it may be, it is infinitely better than the concrete monstrosity of the 1960s.
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