Time could be running out on for proposed £400 million redevelopment of the Brighton Centre.
Brighton and Hove City Council has been in talks with Standard Life for four years over rebuilding the seafront conference space while expanding Churchill Square shopping centre. But, with finance hard to come by, local authority bosses have admitted they could be forced to look at alternative options if a fully-funded scheme is not put forward in the “coming months”.
As an alternative, town hall chiefs are considering a 25-year revamp of the existing centre. However, the local authority said this would be “a plan B, not a new plan A”.
Last night (November 12) developers maintained they are committed to the plan, which experts predict would create 1,500 jobs and bring £3.5 billion to the local economy over its lifetime.
Tony Mernagh, the executive director of Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership, said: “It is certainly a second best option but we cannot really hang around any longer and wait for presumably retail to improve so Standard Life sees the time to get a return.
“The indications are that things may not improve until 2020 at the earliest.
“We cannot afford to have the centre languishing for the next eight years as we’ll get to a point where it’s not viable.”
The local authority signed up for the redevelopment scheme, which also involves the neighbouring Kingswest cinema and nightclub complex owned by Standard Life Investments, in December 2008.
It was to provide a new 24,500sqm conference centre, an expanded shopping centre, a cinema and parking.
Make Architects, whose partners have been involved in London’s Gherkin and Wembley Stadium, was commissioned to draw up plans in July 2009.
But no visible proposals have been brought forward.
A council spokesman said: “There is no change of policy. The preference is to rebuild it and this report says nothing to change that.
“But as a rebuild depends on private sector investment and this is hard to come by, we’re sensibly exploring any alternatives, should one be needed.”
He added “no decision” has been made on a timescale or future partners.
Recently, to ensure the city does not get left behind by cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, the council has invested £1 million in the Brighton Centre.
The bookings confirmed since include two national Labour Party conferences in the next three years.
Geoffrey Bowden, the council’s economic development committee chairman, said: “At the moment we’re waiting for our private sector partners.
“Until they bring money to it we have to continue what we’re doing which is making the best efforts we can to improve it while bringing it up to scratch as economically as we can.
“The work we have done has really helped and we have got a very full booking list.”
Conservative councillor Geoffrey Theobald said he agreed the centre should be revamped over a number of years rather than rebuilt.
He added: “My personal view is that the centre is in the right place next to the major hotels in the city centre.
“I remain to be convinced that moving conferences to Black Rock while it is rebuilt makes sense.”
Labour councillor Warren Morgan said: “When Labour ran the council, renewing the Brighton Centre to sustain and grow the local economy was a priority.
“The Greens must be totally clear about their plans for the Brighton Centre and not allow the future of this key part of our city’s economy to drift.”
A report presented to the council’s economic development committee on Thursday said a full review of the centre was completed in June.
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