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Labour Party Conference comes to Brighton but do we want it?
11:00am Saturday 21st September 2013 in News
For the next five days the world’s gaze will fall on Brighton and Hove.
From MPs to journalists, lobbyists to grassroots members, about 10,000 delegates are expected to attend the Labour Party’s national annual conference.
Tourism bosses claim the visitor numbers alone will bring benefits of up to £15 million into the local economy as retailers, hotels and restaurants all benefit during the four-day event.
But what about the cost to local residents?
High-profile visitors bring high-profile security and this year’s event, which will be focussed on the 5,000 - capacity Brighton Centre and Brighton Hilton Metropole, is no different.
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But this year there are a few changes in policing plans – dubbed Operation Otter, which took a year to plan and is estimated to cost more than £500,000.
What will not change is the impact that the event will have on city businesses at a time – the end of September – when trading conditions for the tourist economy could be difficult.
Adam Bates, Brighton and Hove City Council’s head of tourism and leisure, said hosting conferences helped advertise the city to a wider audience.
He said: “It puts the city not just in the spotlight, not just nationally but across the world.
“Conferences are something we have done for 250 years or so and it’s something we’re really good at “In the last week we have had conferences that were held in Germany and China the previous years.
“What the party conferences do is really make people aware of what Brighton has to offer.”
Alot has changed since Labour were last in town for their annual event in 2009.
The party is no longer in government for one while Gordon Brown, the then prime minister, has been replaced as party leader by Ed Miliband.
Key issues on delegates minds will be the “bedroom tax”, the economy and union relations, who are currently at odds with the party leadership.
There are also a number of changes to the security arrangements.
Gone is the mass “ring of steel” – which surrounds the Brighton Centre as well as the Hilton Metropole and The Grand hotels.
Gone is the bridge near the Russell Square car park which link the venues.
Gone is the need for members of the public to cross the road between the West Pier and West Street when walking along Kings Road.
Instead, a fence will only be installed around the Brighton Centre, which will be manned by security teams from G4S, paid for by the Labour party.
While police officers say they will keep road closures to a minimum, a few streets will be shut for a short time just before and just after the conference.
A pedestrian highway built in the lay-by outside the Brighton Centre will also mean the highway on the north of Kings Road will remain open for non-delegates.
The key message from police is that they will keep any disruption to the minimum.
Inspector Niall Griffin, who is leading the police response, said: “This has been about a year in the planning with work starting before the Liberal Democrat conference last year actually happened “We have had regular meetings with the city council and the party to make sure that the set up is exactly how they like it while minimising the impact to the public.”
The cost to the public will also be minimised.
With Labour the official opposition and not in government, this year’s event will have a reduced high-profile approach to security.
Aside from a small team of officer from Manchester, who attend every conference, Sussex Police said no officers were being drafted in from elsewhere To cover the costs Sussex Police will receive a grant from the Home Office, which will cover about 85% of the policing operation.
This year it is about £500,000 – significantly less than the £2.1 million set aside for the Liberal Democrats conference in Brighton last year.
The reduced operation will also mean less impact on nearby residents, who have been kept in regular contact about plans through newsletter and meetings.
One meeting for locals last week on the plans attracted just five residents.
Police claim this is because locals were so well informed of the possible disruption but urged people to contact them if there were any issues.
Chief Inspector Gary Pike, of Sussex Police, said: “We have been talking to residents to share information about our plans so that people can ask us any questions they might have.
“As with all conferences of this size we would appeal to people in the local community to continue to talk to us and report anything that they think may be suspicious.”
The Argus will have all the local reaction to all the big news at the Labour Conference.
Every day we will have a full page dedicated to the latest goings on as MPs enjoy our seaside city.
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