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 along the seafront exhibition space of Madeira Drive.
FROM a race track to a car park, a meeting place to a public gallery – Madeira Drive is probably the most versatile space in Brighton and Hove.
Stretching from the Palace Pier to Brighton Marina, it is a one and a half mile stretch of seafront where there always seems to be something happening.
From the marathon in April to Pride in the summer it is a place where people go to get together and have fun.
Yet away from the temporary events there is something lacking.
With few attractions and big plans to breathe new life into the area coming up short, some have described it as a “desert”.
Russell Haynes, the owner of venue Concorde 2, nestled in the seafront arches, sees all of the daily comings and goings.
He said: “There are two destination venues down here at the minute: the Yellowave volleyball court and Concorde. Aside from that there’s nothing there. I would love to see it busier as it’s a great area.”
This is a problem Brighton and Hove City Council also recognises.
As it launches a consultation looking for ideas to improve the area stretching from Hove Lagoon to Saltdean, bosses see Madeira Drive as an area with great potential.
Geoffrey Bowden, the council’s economic development committee chairman, said: “I think it has the potential for most change. Certainly if we want to draw people east of the Palace Pier then we certainly have to address the opportunities there.”
One of the biggest changes will be the planned £5 million Brighton Bathing Pavilion on the site of the former Peter Pan’s playground. Council bosses believe it will act as a year-round attraction, create 300 jobs and bring a disused area back into use.
However, those that work in the area are not sure if it is what’s needed.
Adam Chinery, of Brighton Seafront Traders’ Association, said: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for that section. There’s a reason there were bathing pools and that’s because the sea was not suitable.
“I do not understand why we’re dedicating a massive unique part of Brighton seafront to what’s essentially a very old tradition.
“Times have changed.”
Currently Madeira Drive is a place which already attracts people throughout the year – everyone from petrol heads – who attend a variety of car events to drag racing along the front – to music lovers.
Yesterday (November 15) when The Argus visited there were a host of people processing along the promenade, either walking, jogging or cycling.
Others gathered around the mini-golf course, which could soon host the World Championships, and the popular children’s playground.
Lights in the seafront arches make the area attractive during the early evening, even if the bracing wind means you have to wrap up tight in winter.
But, aside from walking, there does seem to be a lack of things to do.
Mr Haynes said: “There needs to be more attractions.
“Rather than speculate about ideas why not do something really simple like run a bus down there?”
Mr Haynes added he felt the local authority could be a little more flexible about road closures.
He said in previous years there had been major artists who wanted to do live shows in Madeira Drive but weres unable to get local authority approval in advance.
One of the big success stories has been the Yellowave beach sports centre, the only permanent venue of its type in the country.
Ed Gabriel, 28, of Lewes Road, Brighton, is one of the regulars who use it to hone volleyball skills. Hailing from Barcelona, he says it reminds him of his home city.
Mr Gabriel said: “A lot of people from Spain come here because of the seafront.
“The freedom, the feel of a warmer climate and the lively nightlife reminds us of home.”
Yet those that run Yellowave recognise that more could be done with a relatively undeveloped part of the seafront.
Founder Alan Randall, who recently died, was spearheading conversations with the council on how to make things better. Top of the list was finding a compromise on parking prices.
In recent months the tranquility of the seafront has been challenged with people turning the air blue over the hikes.
As part of a comprehensive review, the council increased summer charges in Madeira Drive to £20 a day.
While some concessions have been made traders are still reporting people arriving, looking at the cost and driving off.
Glen Harman, the boss at Waves cafe in Madeira Drive, said businesses on the seafront were being wiped out.
Mr Harman said: “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that it’s the parking charges that are keeping people away.
“People go home and tell their friends and family not to come here.”
A further opportunity – or headache – will come when the Brighton Wheel is forced to come down.
Its planning consent ends when the i360 opens, which gives seafront bosses a hole to fill towards the Palace Pier.
Then there are the issues of what’s been promised but never delivered.
Both Black Rock and Brighton Marina have been the focus of major redevelopment plans.
But the economic crisis and empty promises from developers have meant three big schemes have never really got off the ground.
After ten years plans for an international arena at Black Rock were dropped earlier this year.
As a temporary use it will become an area to display sand sculptures.
But Coun Bowden said the local authority was committed to finding a permanent solution to the empty, but essential, site He said: “It’s been a wasted decade and during that time the council has lost out on income while residents have lost out on a potential attraction.
“We cannot afford another ten year wait.”
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