Yesterday morning £36.2 million landed in the bank account of Brighton i360 Ltd.
Where it came from and what it will be used for has become a cause of great debate in Brighton and Hove. Today, Eleanor Harris exclusively tells The Argus about her confidence in the scheme as she attempts to dispel myths and alleviate concerns about the viability of the 162 metre tall tower. ADRIAN IMMS reports.
TWO years from now the i360 will be standing on the seafront of Brighton and Hove.
Eight years ago it was a mere twinkle in the eye of David Marks and Julia Barfield when they recruited Eleanor Harris as a consultant to turn the idea into a reality.
Along the way, critics have baulked at the sums of public money mentioned, which escalated from an initial £14.8 million in a July 2012 report to £36.2 million, as reported in The Argus in March.
Ms Harris, 42, who is now the chief executive of Brighton i360 Ltd, said: “We could have got private investment but the council wanted to make the money for Brighton.”
She said the project would not offer investors a quick return. She said they are more interested in putting money into property.
She said: “The council is taking a longer-term view. This gives them an income stream they wouldn’t get.”
Ms Harris is so confident in the project that she has invested an undisclosed six-figure sum of her own money into it.
It’s money she won’t see again until she retires.
She said: “This is more of a pension plan than a get-rich-quick plan.
“We are backing the project because we think it will be a fantastic success.
“That’s why I’m putting my own money in.
“We get repaid after the council. I probably won’t see a dividend for 18 years.”
A main concern for taxpayers has been the possible failure of the scheme.
Ms Harris said: “There is some risk, it is possible, but you have got to take risk on balance.
“There is a 40% buffer between our visitor projections and the point at which we can’t repay the loan.
“They would have to fall by nearly 60% before the council can’t repay the Government loan. That’s the point at which it would potentially have to dip into council taxpayers’ money.”
The loan from the Government is from the Public Works Loan Board, which is not council tax money. It was set up for local authorities to fund projects with commercial returns.
The i360 estimate 739,000 visitors a year over the next ten years, with adults paying £15 a head.
Ms Harris said: “We didn’t just pluck £15 out of the air. It has been very carefully tested.”
All the projections have been independently put together by a specialist company and verified by consultant David Camp, who successfully projected visitor numbers for the London Eye.
While the i360 is being compared to the much-lauded capital’s wheel (London Eye gets 4.2 million visitors a year but the i360 will be the highest observation tower outside London) critics have pointed out a key difference between the two: 180 degrees of the i360 will look out to sea.
Ms Harris responded: “The sea itself is kind of beautiful to look at.”
She conceded that viewers would need a telescope to see France on a clear day but was excited at the prospect of the Rampion windfarm providing focal interest out to sea, should it go ahead.
There is also the consideration of weather.
She said: “Any visitor attraction is weather-dependent.
“In my experience the views are better on a grey day.”
She added: “The i360 is much more than just about the view. In the evening it becomes the Sky Bar and we will be able to host live entertainment. We will also have a whole suite of hospitality rooms, exhibition space, installations, a shop and a 400-cover restaurant.”
The company anticipates that 68% of its revenue will come from ticket admission, with the rest coming from the above extras. There are plans for colour-coded, lit-up events such as Pride.
Works have already begun on the site on King’s Road, with the removal of the West Pier columns due to be completed this month.
Ms Harris said “there are absolutely no plans” to take down the West Pier.
She said: “Our scheme will restore one of the 19th-century toll booths and lovingly restore the other one, which has been in storage.”
Jason Kitcat, the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council said, “We are delighted to confirm our funding agreement with the Brighton i360. It will be a spectacular observation attraction and is the cornerstone to funding the regeneration of Brighton’s seafront.”
The priority for the project is to pay back the council’s £36.2 million and the local enterprise partnership’s £4.1 million loan.
Like Ms Harris’s sum, the £6.1 million being put forward by David Marks and Julia Barfield may not be seen again by them for 18 years.
Ms Harris is so confident the tower will open on time there are financial penalties for the contractors if they run a day late during the project.
If they work ahead of schedule, there will be a bonus.
On getting the deal sealed after eight years’ work, she said: “More than 100 contracts got signed. It took hours. It was a great relief to see the money.
“My husband always jokes that the i360 is my third baby.”
And what does Ms Harris say to those who are still not convinced?
“I will hope to prove them wrong when we open.
“It will be a really beautiful, iconic structure and hopefully a fantastic and inspiring visitor attraction.”
i360 BY NUMBERS
- 200 people can stand side by side, lining the circumference of the pod, meaning the pod can accommodate at least 200 people.
- 20 minute ride, three rides per hour l Structure is 162 meters tall, the tallest in Brighton and Hove.
- Pod rises to 138 meters l By contrast the London Eye is 135m high, rising to 132m, and Sussex Heights, currently Brighton and Hove’s highest building, is 102 meters tall.
- 440 jobs for the city, according to an independent economic impact study, 169 jobs at the tower l More than 300,000 new visitors to the city l 49,000 additional overnight stays
Now: removal of the root end (road end) of the old West Pier.
July 2014: First spade in the ground event.
Autumn 2014: Foundation work and Victorian sewer diversion.
May/June 2015: Two boats land on Brighton beach with the structure in pieces on it.
June-September 2015: Tower to be built from the bottom up.
Winter 2015: Building and fitting out.
Spring 2016: Pod installation.
June 2016: The i360 opens.
Construction £37.8 million Finance costs and interest £4.7 million Pre-opening and operational expenditure £2.1 million Contingency and working capital reserve account £1.8 million PRODUCTION The viewing pod and drive system to hoist it up the tower are being made by a ski lift manufacturer in France.
The steel is being made in Holland by the country’s largest steelwork supplier which also built the capsules for the London Eye.
1% of ticket revenue goes to the council for ever.
The Brighton i360 believes 68% of its revenue will come from ticket sales. The rest will come from functions, sponsorship, catering and retail.
Between £13 million and £25 million forecast in tourist revenue.
As a soft benefit, every state school child, at some point in their education, will get to use the i360 for free.
Adult 16 and over, £15 Children 5-15 - £7.50 Under-5s free
Brighton and Hove City Council loan from the Government through its Public Works Loan Board: £36.2 million (paid back over at least 18 years, up to 27 years, depending on revenue) Coast to Capital local enterprise partnership: £4.1 million (paid back within seven years) David Marks, Julia Barfield and associates: £6.1 million (repayable after public loans) Total: £46.4 million Other members of the project, including Eleanor Harris, are putting in six-figure sums, undisclosed (repayable after public loans)