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Hoping for a sea change in seafront’s fortunes
The seafront is Brighton and Hove’s lifeblood – a place for its residents to work, rest and play. As Brighton and Hove City Council launches a consultation into improving a 13km stretch, TIM RIDGWAY looks at an area set to be dominated by two landmarks – the burnt-out West Pier and the towering i360.
The vision on paper is clear – one Victorian pier standing in the English Channel, another 21st century one stretching towards the sky.
This is the promised future for the stretch of Brighton seafront which city bosses believe will become an extension of the tourist honeypot around the Palace Pier.
With a children’s playground, shops and popular market, at the moment it is more of a place for those living in the city rather than those visiting.
But that could change with the building of the £38 million i360 observation tower.
For those who have worked in the area for a while, the investment does not come before time.
Emilio Savvides and his brother Roberto have run the Regency Restaurant, in King’s Road, for 26 years.
He said: “We have seen a lot of change in that time.
“But this particular stretch across the road from us has been left without any investment for the last 30 years plus.
“It’s always been looking like a building site and still [the council] keeps saying they will redevelop that area with something.
“People reach the railings and the hoardings at the West Pier and think everywhere is closed.
“We get a lot of people from London at weekends. They like coming down for the day but they want things to do.”
Leisure and sport
But as Brighton and Hove City Council launches a consultation into a 13km stretch of the seafront from Hove Lagoon to Saltdean, times are changing.
The stretch, roughly from The Peace Statue to the area known as the Ellipse, opposite the Hilton Metropole, is seen by local authority chiefs as being an area for leisure and sport.
The i360, which is expected to open in spring 2015, is predicted to attract 800,000 visitors in its first year.
As well as being a “destination attraction”, Geoffrey Bowden, chairman of the city council’s economic development committee, said there would be a “big injection” of funds from the i360 development.
Visitors are expected to spend their money in nearby restaurants and cafes, particularly Preston Street.
Last week the local authority began work strengthening the seafront arches in the hope of turning them from storage areas to trading shop fronts.
Duncan Cameron, of the Regency Square Society, said: “The area is run-down and neglected. But actually there is a lot going on and it’s quite popular, with the playground and West Pier market always busy.
“It will be a shame if this is replaced by some giant structure which turns it into an artificial, mechanical sort of place.”
Alexandra Lewis, of family-run Alfresco restaurant, said its opening in 1996 had acted as a catalyst for the area.
She added: “There have been a lot of changes in recent years, and we have been here right from the beginning. We have been the pioneers for the area.
The change with the i360 will be good. But we need more public toilets, as there are just not enough all the way along the seafront. There is also a lack of parking but also the cost. We want to encourage people to visit, but how can we compete when people can go down to Brighton Marina and there’s free parking?
“That’s not to mention the amount of roadworks we have had in the area recently.”
West Pier traders
However, change does not come without its casualties. Among those who will be displaced are traders from the popular West Pier Market, who have been told by the West Pier Trust they must move.
More than 7,800 people signed a petition asking Brighton and Hove City Council to find stallholders an alternative place on the seafront to sell their wares.
Speaking at a recent council meeting, Peter Fijalkowski, of the West Pier Traders’ Association, said: “There’s uncertainty and where there’s uncertainty, there’s anxiety.
“We’re calling for a commitment into the future to help preserve [the market] as an integral part of the seafront experience.It would be very sad if the i360, although great for regenerating the area, meant that the people who have made their living for years to lose their livelihoods.”
Coun Bowden said: “While it is not our responsibility, we have said we will do try our best to find a space for them.”
The success of this stretch of the seafront, however, may depend on the fortunes of a sky-scraping observation tower.
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