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A-Z of London Road reveals the "real Brighton"
“Aldi”, “graffiti”, and “unconscious” are some of the words photographer George Coles uses to describe London Road in his new A-Z book looking at the Brighton thoroughfare. But with several major building and regeneration projects proposed for the area, the much maligned London Road may be about to change forever. Neil Vowles reports.
It was the bustling heart of Brighton, a typical English high street full of family-run businesses.
But the years have not been kind to London Road and while other parts of the city have flourished, the area has been left behind.
Regular visitors to London Road shops talk of a general decline of the neighbourhood, which has become a haven for street drinkers.
Now that image could be flipped on its head with a series of major projects aimed at breathing life back into the patch.
Multi-million pound schemes underway at the Open Market and The Level are set to inject new impetus, while further proposals by the University of Sussex and City College Brighton and Hove could also reshape the road in the next five years.
Before that possible metamorphosis, photographer George Coles has captured the day-to-day realities of London Road in 2012 with a new photography exhibition and book.
Mr Coles spent an hour a day for nine months walking along London Road taking pictures and talking to people he met, from street drinkers to shoppers.
The photographer, who is a carpenter and joiner by day, said he was drawn in by the characters he sees walking the road.
He was inspired by Edwardian projects to document the street but was keen to portray the people who use London Road, something that was missing from the Edwardian studies.
He said: “One of the big problems London Road has with the Co-op closing and the Open Market gone for the moment, is a lack of footfall on the street.
“Even during the nine months I saw there were not as many people walking the street.
“The key to London Road is attracting people from Sydney Street and that area and getting them to walk through to London Road.
“It’s part of old Brighton. It is a really real place with real people and not like some of the other parts of the city.”
He says that people were generally gloomy about the area’s future, but he was more optimistic.
“I think there will be a big change in five years if I was to repeat this project.
“I can see similarities with the East End of London and the way that has changed.”
Philip Wells, chair of the London Road Local Action Team, said that in recent years there was great reason to be positive about the future.
He said that the area had been playing second fiddle to Churchill Square and Western Road for decades but was now in the throes of a rejuvenation.
He said: “I think if you put all the proposed projects together, London Road becomes a very exciting part of Brighton.
“I think the best plan is to help London Road be itself. “It’s a bit of old Brighton and it has a wide variety of people who use it.
“Statistically, reports of problems with street drinkers have declined in recent months and the street community is very much part of our community.
“There are going to be people in a place like Brighton who have issues and you cannot wish them out of existence and we have to find ways to manage them.
“There is scope for imagination to put London Road on the map in a positive way in 2012 rather than what it was like in 1998.”
Steve Percy, of the People’s Parking Protest, said that London Road should be the first thing that motorists driving into the city should see.
He said: “Previously, you came into Brighton and London Road was the gateway as you drove into the Old Steine and it was a thriving industry.
“When they restricted access from Preston Circus in the Seventies, I’m not sure what the advantage was.
“I remember as a youngster it was a |wonderful shopping experience, dropping |in for a bargain bit of bacon from the local butchers.
“Now with parking at £3.50 for one hour, that bacon is no longer a bargain.
“The proposed changes to Valley Gardens means that even traffic leaving the city will be directed away from London Road.
“London Road is a wide road and it would really benefit from having more car parking spaces where people could stop off for a few minutes and pick up what they need from the local shops.
“Unfortunately, under the current proposals for the city it’s more likely that the pavements will be widened or a cycle lane added.”
A Brighton and Hove City Council spokeswoman said: “Brighton and Hove City Council is committed to seeing London Road become an increasingly accessible and vibrant area.
“The council is actively working on a range of projects and encouraging investment to London Road.
“The wide reaching vision for the future aims to make a real difference for people living and working in the area.
“The interest and benefits are set to generate new visitors and increase appreciation of this part of the city.”
The photo exhibition will continue at the Co-op in London Road until early November.