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 takes a trip to the traditional seaside image of the city.
Think Brighton and chances are thoughts will spring to the small stretch of the seafront dominated by the Palace Pier.
The picture-perfect postcard image of the lit-up Victorian attraction protruding out of the English Channel has become a magnet for tourists since opening in 1899.
But the area from The Grand Hotel to the Palace Pier roundabout also plays an important part in the formation of the city as we know it.
It began with Dr Richard Russell, who championed the health benefits of seawater in the 18th century when Brighton was still the small fishing village of Brighthelmstone.
Throughout the years, the Prince Regent, clashing mods and rockers and Prime Ministers are among the millions of people to have graced the promenade as they all took their own memories of the Sussex coast home.
Even today, it acts as the heartbeat for the rest of the 13km coastal stretch from Hove Lagoon to Saltdean, which Brighton and Hove City Council is asking for views on.
Within a pebble’s throw, there are four of the city’s major tourist attractions – Palace Pier, the Royal Pavilion, Brighton Wheel and the Sealife Centre.
And, despite the turbulent fortunes associated with the traditional British seaside, those responsible for running them maintain this is something that should not be lost.
Anne Martin, general manager of Brighton’s Palace Pier, said: “The feedback we get – and you only have to stand on the pier to hear people say ‘isn’t it great to have the sea air’ – is that the British seaside tradition is still alive.
“We are so close to London and the towns in the M25 belt and people do want to get away to the coast. We certainly have to build on that.”
Among the visitors yesterday were Ben Lille, 27, and his girlfriend Jude Green, who were on a four-day break from south London.
The impression they described was definitely of ‘Kiss Me Quick’ ilk.
Mr Lille said: “The pier is a nostalgic, camp and colourful experience.
“The attractions are fun, if a little dated, but the prices are certainly higher than at other resorts.
“The pier itself is clean, well looked after and seems to attract a varied clientele.”
As well as the traditional seaside image, there is a rich cultural and artistic heritage to the promenade.
Sitting on the pebble beach, some could be forgiven for thinking it was a scene from Brighton Rock. A walk down East Street and thoughts may drift to the famous alleyway scene between Phil Daniels and Lesley Ash in Quadrophenia.
Dotted around on the promenade there are a variety of concrete shapes, such as the recognisable Doughnut, which amuse and entertain those passing. The upper promenade has also been turned into an outside gallery giving respite to people walking, running or cycling on the pavement near King’s Road.
That’s not forgetting the quaint Brighton Fishing Museum, traditional smokehouse, or the Brighton Grand itself, which was damaged so horrifically in 1984 by an IRA bomb.
Council leader Jason Kitcat, who also represents the area on the local authority, described it as “one of the successes of the seafront”.
He added: “From 20 years ago, there has been complete regeneration. If you walk down there, it’s all independent shops, which is quite unique and something we should be really proud of.
“It’s about what we can do to consolidate the seafront with the rest of the city.
“We have already seen the pedestrian crossing improvement works to East Street which makes it easier for people getting from the city centre to the promenade. The last piece of the jigsaw is the i360 and surrounding area.”
However, Ms Martin said more could be done to improve the appeal to people, claiming some areas had been “neglected”.
She said: “We have probably seen as many people during the day but there are certainly far fewer people in the evenings and late nights.
“They are not separate, day runs into night.
“I would like to see more done as part of the wider night-time economy with advertising and creating a message so people are encouraged to stay. They should know what areas to go for families, areas for partygoers and areas for younger people.”
Ms Martin suggested a way of attracting more visitors in the evening could be attracting a large department store to the city.
Adam Chinery, of Brighton Seafront Traders’ Association, said the seafront was becoming a “six-month seafront”.
He added: “There’s a big range of shops, which are all run as independents but there needs to be more encouragement to open all year round.”
Mr Chinery, who runs Brighton Watersports, suggested the local authority look at following Hastings Borough Council’s lead and install artistic lighting.
He said: “The seafront has got some fantastic shapes with the arches and artwork. If we can look at lighting not only as a safety and security thing but also as artistic then I think it will really make a difference at nights.”
Such improvements would not break the bank, but they would make sure that the area around the Palace Pier continues to be the beating heart of the seafront for years to come.
What the future could hold
- Improve pedestrian access between the Palace Pier and promenade
- Develop artist and fishing quarters
- Improve pedestrian crossing across King’s Road
- New or improved conference centre
- New lighting and benches and less street clutter near Palace Pier
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