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Your Interview: Mike Holland
11:30am Saturday 29th September 2012 in News
In our new weekly feature your Interview, we give you, our readers, the chance to ask key figures across Sussex the questions you want answered. This week Brighton businessman MIKE HOLLAND answers your questions.
Hove Actually: Do you think that the council quotas for social housing in new developments discourage developers from producing quality innovative developments that are truly 21st century in design?
MIKE HOLLAND (MH): I think if the council looked at development in a more pragmatic and businesslike way, there would be more quality, innovative developments in our city. The council is too hung up on this social housing issue and are blinkered with their excessive demands which are set to become even more onerous if they have their way. I am not, for one minute, suggesting that developers shouldn’t contribute to social needs. These should be and are quite rightly tied up by 106 agreements at the time of planning consent being granted. However, I have yet to meet a developer who would not rather pay much higher social contributions under their 106 agreements than be forced to build mixed developments, which purchasers simply do not like. This simply stifles business and makes many developments non-viable. If 106 social contributions were increased to a sensible level, then everyone would be happy as there would be more development and better amenities for the people of our city. Social housing should be the responsibility of the local authority and housing associations, not local business and certainly not at the expense of local amenities such as toilets and libraries.
Hove Actually: How would you improve Kingsway, Hove, seafront?
MH: Well, I could have had a field day if you had asked me about Brighton seafront but Hove is a little more difficult, as we are only talking about the area from the Peace Statue going west. I would certainly look more closely at some of the events that are allowed on the lawns, as I know many residents feel that some activities held there provide little benefit to anyone and are poorly organised. I think these activities, if they are to take place at all, should be limited to the two lawns nearest the Peace Statue, leaving the rest for people who simply wish to enjoy our seafront. If we want noise we can go to Brighton. The cycle lanes seem to work well at this end of the promenade but I would come down hard on those cyclists who constantly cycle on the promenade. I have personally witnessed a little tot being knocked over by one of these selfish individuals. I believe we need more toilets at the Western end and proper disabled facilities at both ends. The current situation with regard to toilets and, in particular, for the disabled is ridiculous in the extreme. Seafront parking charges are, as we know, the highest anywhere on the south coast, if not in the country. I would suggest we find out what the national average is and fix ours at that amount rather than pricing visitors off our seafront.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: When is the Engineerium going to reopen to visitors given that it’s been closed for six years?
MH: Well, I have good news for you; we are opening in a limited way for the first time on Sunday, October 28 when our beam engines will be under steam. We will then be opening regularly; normally the last Sunday in every month but please do check our website as dates may change if they clash with other events in the city. (www.britishengineerium.org ). Eventually, when the project is fully finished, we will be open every day of the year with the exception of Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It is taking longer than I would have wished but in these dire economic times I am endeavouring to finance the project from my own resources. I decided at the outset that I would rather the project took longer to complete than involve that group of people we refer politely to as bankers.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: Do the exhibits still run like they did before it was closed?
MH: Yes they do and indeed since we took over we have recommissioned a second boiler. We are in fact the only steam museum in the country to have two working boilers. We have also purchased a 1900 Locomobile steam car which is just one of the new exhibits. There will, of course, be many more to join the exhibits that have always been there. However, not all will be working at the same time as we shall be alternating the working exhibits. As time moves on and some of the projects we are working on are completed, we will become The World of Engineering and celebrate not just steam but engineering in general. For instance we are currently working on The Museum of Film which, of course, is very pertinent to Hove as this is where the first silent movies started in this country. We are also working on an interactive centre and attractions that will celebrate engineers such as Magnus Volk, Eugenius Birch and Brunel.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: Is an ice rink viable in our city?
MH: I think an indoor ice rink would be viable and I am sure that if an all year round rink was constructed it would indeed be a great success. However, it needs to be in a place that is accessible and most importantly has adequate parking. I do not see how this can possibly be on the seafront but could easily be built inland; perhaps at Falmer which would indeed assure its success as it would be well patronised by students – which of course is what the Olympics was all about – empowering and encouraging our young people through sport.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: Will the i360 revitalise the Preston Street area?
MH: Well I have made my views known on this point. I do not believe for one minute that this structure will ever be built. If it is, it will be the biggest white elephant this region has ever seen. Therefore my answer has to be: It won’t happen so forget it and let’s look at other ways of regenerating the Preston Street area such as pedestrianising the lower section, tidying up that mess at the entrance to what used to be the West Pier and stop talking about giving someone |£17 million towards a proposed £38 million structure which is unlikely to get built. Could we perhaps start a little more modestly to begin with and invest £2,000 in a jet washer? It would not be beyond the wit of man surely to retrain a couple of council employees to jet wash the roads around the Preston Street area which would go some way to encouraging people back into the area.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: Does the business community in Sussex do enough for charity?
MH : The answer to that has to be no. There are indeed some incredibly generous companies and individuals out there. However there are many who think that buying a couple of raffle tickets at a charity event and paying your taxes is sufficient. We all know that Government should give more to the voluntary sector where best value for money can be demonstrated. However that rarely happens and therefore charities providing vital services, such as hospice care and many others, desperately need our help. It is amazing how, as a company, you can indeed feel you are helping to keep a vital service of your choice afloat. You will feel good as an employer. Your staff will feel good knowing they are working for a company that actually cares and your customers will look on your company as one that is meeting its social responsibilities. It is also good to know that with the tax reliefs that come with giving, you are deciding where that money goes and not George Osborne.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: Do you believe the big cat exists?
MH: Yes I do because too many credible witnesses have reported sightings. A few years ago in Portslade there were two sightings heavily reported in The Argus when two people in different parts of Portslade reported a sighting on the same morning. There has been big cat spoors found up on the Downs and evidence of big cat kills. When I lived in Pulborough some years ago, there was a chap who kept one in his garden. It is not inconceivable that when the Dangerous Pets Act came into force some of these animals were released into the wild and have simply bred.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: How can we encourage more visitors to the city?
MH: In order to encourage more people to the city, there are many improvements that we need to make. Of course we don’t want our seafront and side streets clogged up with traffic but in order to alleviate that and still encourage people to visit, we must make the city accessible and provide proper parking areas. These areas should be relatively cheap in order to encourage people to park and ride or indeed in some cases park and walk. We need to clean our streets up and get some proper floral displays going. We need to stop these ridiculous summer-time roadworks and indeed utility companies should be kept at least three roads back from the seafront, except in dire emergencies, between the months of April and September. In short we need to be more user-friendly and less complacent towards our visitors and improve the quality of life for our residents.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: The Christmas decorations have gone up in one or two shops, but has the council prepared all year round to help traders and shoppers make the most of the festive season?
MH: Well, I believe that just as we have a Food Festival, an Arts Festival and a Fashion Festival we should have a Christmas Festival. We already have the backdrop for the Winter Wonderland in the Lanes. We simply need the odd snow machine and to encourage traders to dress for the part and decorate their shops. Bearing in mind the huge contribution the shops in our city make to the economy, it would not be unreasonable for the council from its three-quarters of a billion pound budget to spend £100,000 of that towards employing an all year round Christmas Czar and provide some proper lights, decorations and a few young actors wandering about for the month of the Christmas Festival. We could ensure that on weekdays during December, visitors who spend more than £100 produce their receipts and are given up to four hours free parking to encourage the maximum number of visitors to spend their money in our city and not somewhere else.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: The 2012 Olympics showed what this country can do – can we capture that spirit at local level?
MH: I believe we can as we already have the Brighton Marathon and the London to Brighton cycle ride. There are of course many other sporting events in our area but the one trick I think we are missing is that this city could produce some award-winning ice skaters if we could just get a proper indoor rink. Several attempts have been made to encourage basketball in a serious way. However none of these have been given any meaningful council support and have therefore fallen by the wayside. Resources do need to be put into encouraging sport in young people and let’s hope Albion in the Community is able to go some way in achieving that, as precious little help comes from government despite all the rhetoric.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: Has the Brighton and Hove Pride event become too big?
MH: I don’t think it has become too big. I think it has now become something that is here to stay and brings a lot of people to the city. I personally believe the parade itself causes way too much disruption. However I blame that on the council for not being firmer with the organisers. The event itself has simply taken over from the old Brighton Lions Carnival which certainly also had a procession each year. I would have thought though, that with the circulation problems we have, a quieter route could be planned.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: Should we have more people from a business background making decisions in the council?
MH: Yes most definitely. I believe that at least half the local councillors should have a proper business background. How can we possibly expect a group of people, with no business experience, to run what is really a three-quarters of a billion pound annual turnover business? Where else would you find this other than in local government? When I met David Cameron before the Tories came into power, he assured me that every local authority in the land would have an advisory panel of business people to give them business guidance. Will somebody please give me an example of where that has happened? It is imperative that our current bunch of councillors take heed of the needs of local business before it is too late and irreversible damage is done to our economy.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: Why have you backed the movie Dark Roar?
MH: I believe in this project and the individuals behind it. This is a truly local production put together by and featuring local people. If this low budget film is the success that we hope it will be, it will further reinforce the fact that our region is fast becoming the place to be for TV and film. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if, in the not too distant future, we were hosting the Brighton film festival along with all the other festivals we have.
FROM THEARGUS.CO.UK: What is the best thing about living in Brighton?
MH: The thing I like best about Brighton is probably also the thing that annoys me most. It is like a jigsaw that will never be finished, because nobody can agree where the bits go. However it also makes Brighton what it is – a strange place but one in which you are rarely bored and don’t get the time to grow old. It is a place like no other and for some reason, no matter where you go in the world and no matter how much we moan about it infuriatingly we are inevitably drawn back.
WOULD you like to quiz key figures in the county?
Are there questions you would love to get the answers to?
We are giving you the chance to put questions to leading figures, politicians and business people across Sussex as part of a new feature called Your Interview.
We have already featured Albion chief executive Paul Barber and Brighton Pavilion Green MP Caroline Lucas.
Over the coming weeks we will feature Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, the head of policing in the city.
We are also asking our readers for questions for Roger French, managing director of Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company.
What would you like to ask Mr French?
Email your questions for Mr French to email@example.com or call Neil on 01273 544530
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