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King Alfred development - Comment: City should be proud to have this fantastic vision
Published: September 14, 2005
|A model of the proposed development on show at Brighton's Jubilee Library|
What was the reaction of many Hove people when the world's most celebrated architect produced his latest plans for a seafront site?
While almost any other place would have been delighted Frank Gehry's first building in England was to be there, whiners and whingers filled most of two letters pages in The Argus the following Monday with their dreary spiel.
Instead of applauding Gehry's fantastic towers as a top tourist attraction, they found every conceivable way of opposing them.
The towers were ugly, overbearing and out of scale with the area. They would bring too many people and too much traffic on to the seafront. They were not what was wanted in Hove.
There's little doubt these protesters will do all they can to stop this scheme as they have every other for the King Alfred site in Kingsway during the last 35 years.
If they achieve their aims, Gehry and developer Karis will go, not to return, and Hove will be stuck with an ageing, inefficient and dreary sports centre.
Some objectors do not like anything new. They really would rather keep the present King Alfred in its state of semi-dereliction than see it developed.
No doubt they are the descendants of those who were protesting only a mile to the east of the King Alfred 139 years ago.
The West Pier was by common consent the most beautiful seaside structure ever built in this country, grand and graceful.
Yet the people of Regency Square were out there bawling and barracking when the pier opened back in 1866.
History does not record what the local reaction was when the Prince of Wales built his palace by the sea in the previous century.
But I wouldn't be at all surprised to find someone complaining the Royal Pavilion was out of keeping and likely to attract riff-raff.
Brighton boomed as a resort because men and women of vision were prepared to take big decisions and be forward thinking. The old Chain Pier in 1823 was the first in the country.
It led later to both the West Pier and then the Palace Pier, now the top tourist attraction in the South-East.
Civic leaders sanctioned the great sea wall in Madeira Drive which made a large open-air amphitheatre.
Later Sir Harry Preston pioneered Brighton as a centre for aviation, motoring and the arts.
Wilds and Busby, backed by builders and developers such as Cubitt and Kemp, constructed the soaring squares and crescents of Brighton and Hove on a huge and delightful scale.
Sir Herbert Carden, often called the maker of modern Brighton, made sure between the wars that the town expanded to keep up with and even beat its rivals.
Lewis, later Lord, Cohen built thousands of low-cost homes in areas such as Patcham and west Hove.
The building of Sussex and Brighton Universities, vital parts of the city's fabric, would never have happened but for the vision of too many people to mention.
There are also plenty prepared to claim parentage of the Brighton Festival which from a rocky start is now the biggest in England.
The Brighton Centre and Metropole exhibition halls were not buildings of beauty but they gave Brighton a head start in the conference and marketing business which it has never lost.
Not all new development is good. The tall towers of the Sixties were nearly all a mistake, the wrong buildings in the wrong places at the wrong time.
But little thought was given to the design and impact of these skyscrapers by their largely anonymous architects. Compare this with today when people such as Gehry are taking immense care with their schemes.
They employ an army of helpers to look at the projects from every angle to assess their worth. The result is high-quality design from top architects.
Gehry has already changed his King Alfred proposals more than once.
There is little doubt the architect, notorious for being finicky, will do so again before a planning application is prepared.
People are right to look at his plans carefully because the buildings should last several lifetimes.
They should not accept them simply because Gehry is involved – an architect, no matter how eminent, is only as good as his latest design. But they should not simply oppose them for the sake of it. They should also go and see the scheme, now on public display, before opening their mouths again.
If built, it will provide hundreds of homes, many of them affordable, for a city short of space.
Ridiculous posters saying Save Our Pools have gone up in parts of Hove even though this scheme contains a £45 million sports centre including pools designed by leading architects HOK.
Protesters can hold up plans for years and even scupper them. Ask Albion, whose plans for a Falmer stadium are going before a wearisome series of public inquiries, placing an enormous strain on the club.
Look at Black Rock, where the old pool site has been derelict since 1978 mainly because locals have opposed exciting plans for water theme parks there.
Think of the Brighton Station site, derelict since the days of steam until this year because of obstacles thrown in the way of successive redevelopment schemes.
Look at the West Pier. It is like that because objectors held up approved renovation plans, allowing arsonists to have their wicked way and English Heritage to lose its nerve.
Look at the way objectors have held up multi-million pound plans for a new sewage works for Brighton, forcing Southern Water only this week to take the bold step of setting a second public inquiry into motion.
There was a long period from the late Sixties into the Nineties when objectors won on nearly every issue.
Brighton and Hove began to fall into semi decrepitude. But in the last decade the city has thrived. It is now more exciting and vibrant than I have ever known.
Exciting developments such as the Jubilee Library have started and not at the expense of conservation.
The increased prosperity and zest of the city has led to a heightened interest in the old as well as the new.
There are more big decisions to be made, chiefly one on the need for a new conference venue.
It will take boldness and the best architects to succeed but it must be done to keep Brighton and Hove the most exciting and dynamic seaside resort in Britain.
Constructive criticism will be expected and welcome but churlish chunderings of the kind being spewed all over Hove need to be hosed down swiftly by a torrent of effective facts and logic.