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Brighton and Hove leaders desperate to improve Western Road
Only a few years ago, the area around Western Road in Brighton bustled with shoppers and hungry customers.
For decades the district was a go-to destination for visitors leaving the seafront and major hotels.
But the recession has hit the area hard with rows of empty homes and shabby shopfronts.
Business leaders now complain shoppers and tourists have deserted the district in favour of the fashionable boutique shops in the North Laine.
In April, a survey by the Federation of Small Businesses found 40% of shops in the area were now lying vacant.
Hordes of street drinkers are now a regular sight in doorways and on park benches in nearby Norfolk Square.
As Brighton and Hove City Council move ahead with plans to build the i360 in front of Regency Square, city leaders are desperate to revitalise the troubled district before the tourists arrive in their droves.
Andrew Burnyeat is chair of the Brighton Business Improvement District and manager of Icom, a computer repair shop in Preston Street.
He said: “The area from Western Road to Norfolk Square certainly does not look as good as it did five or six years ago.
“I think the whole area has been depressed for a while. We’ve made improvements in recent months but there’s definitely a long way to go.”
Many traders around Western Road are in dire straits as they face soaring rents and plummeting profits.
Trevor Freeman, chairman of the Brighton and Hove Federation of Small Businesses, said landlords were often to blame for the empty shops.
He said: “Around that way it’s becoming impossible for many small shops to stay afloat.
“The problem is many are tied into contracts with upward escalation clauses.
“This means their rent can only go up, not down, and that is unacceptable in the current climate.
“Some unsympathetic landlords put the rent up without taking into account the prevailing circumstances.
“So there needs to be concerted action from tenants and the authorities to make sure this doesn’t happen.
“Another solution would be for the council to break up the larger empty properties into littler units so smaller businesses have the chance to get started.
“I also think government need to lower business rates in times of stress by targeting struggling areas like Western Road and Preston Street to boost trade.
“All this would take is a bit of clever thinking.”
Rename as West Laine
One idea to revitalise the Western Road area is to revive its historic name in a bid to attract visitors.
Councillor Jason Kitcat, leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, suggested that the district become known again as the West Laine.
In years gone by the West Laine was one of five fields that surrounded Brighton including the North Laine, Hilly Laine and Little Laine.
Coun Kitcat said a rebrand could help the neighbourhood emulate the success of the North Laine, famed for its boutique shops and cafes.
He said: “The area around Preston Street, Norfolk Square and Western Road is somewhat divided. As a wider area it doesn’t really have an identity.
“Calling it the West Laine could potentially generate more interest and customers. I think the idea could have a really positive impact and could generate a real sense of community.
“As we move forward with the i360 tower it might help to change how people feel about the area.”
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