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Toad’s Hole back on homes agenda
Toad's Hole Valley used to be a remote and rather peaceful area at the foot of the Downs.
It stood below the hamlet of West Blatchington and the ancient village of Hangleton, more than a mile back from Hove and Portslade by the sea.
But gradually suburbia crept up on the triangular valley so that on two sides it is flanked by housing.
There are two reasons why it is different from most other bits of downland on the edge of the city.
One is that unlike almost every other plot, it is owned privately rather than by Brighton and Hove City Council .
The other is that it is one of the largest bits of downland, more than 100 acres, in the city south of the bypass. As a comparison it is roughly twice the size of Preston Park.
In almost any other large town or city, this valley would not be considered for development. But Brighton and Hove is so short of space that downland has to be sacrificed for some schemes where it is of poor quality.
The classic example of that was building the American Express Community Stadium for Brighton and Hove Albion at Falmer.
It was technically on the Downs but the site had already been ruined by the building of a dual carriageway and two universities.
Toad’s Hole Valley would never have become a potential building site had it not been for the Brighton bypass.
The downland dual carriageway acts as a concrete corset, fitting tightly on the built-up areas. But there are gaps and this valley is one of the largest.
There were plans at one time for it to be used as Albion’s new home but terms could not be agreed with Cooks, the owners.
They also had time on their hands as they were slowly building houses on the other side of King George VI Avenue.
This stopped some years ago and the valley, if developed, would be worth many millions of pounds.
The development issue has surfaced again as part of the debate on the City Plan.
Toad’s Hole could be used as a new gateway to the Downs.
It could also take 700 homes, many of them low cost, on the valley floor.
There would also be a new school, desperately needed in Hove.
The only part of the valley with real ecological value, the steep slope beneath Downland Drive, would be kept clear.
Looking at the valley which has no official access, it is hard to see its benefits. It is grossly overgrown and used only by motor bike riders who force their way on to the site.
It is not a well loved and cherished open space like Green Ridge just over the brow of a hill in Westdene. It is unkempt and ugly.
Toad’s Hole is also marooned between the bypass and King George VI Avenue, both busy roads. Noise from these two highways hardly makes it a peaceful place. It is a waste of space.
Yet there is opposition from local people, backed by local councillors and Tory MP Mike Weatherley, who say Toad’s Hole should be retained as open land.
Target for building
They are a little late. They should have objected to the bypass back in 1980 when opponents clearly pointed out the new road would make the valley a target for building.
Yet there was almost no |reaction, particularly from the people most affected in Downland Drive.
I do not see how they can want the valley in its current state. Their opposition is to plans for more activity there.
Yet Brighton and Hove is crying out for more housing, especially low-cost, affordable homes. The need for a new school is at least as great.
Toad’s Hole could also be used in part for modern offices providing much-needed jobs in a city starved of them.
Surrounded by the Downs, it needs an access point – welcoming, informative and easy to reach.
There are lots of things to be sorted out before any firm plans can be proposed.
The architecture must be first rate and too many buildings must not be crammed in there.
Road access will have to be off King George VI Avenue rather than the bypass and there will have to be a good bus service to the valley.
Networks of pedestrian routes could make the new development attractive and could lead through a bridge or tunnel directly on to downland.
I am normally a great defender of the Downs but this land was blighted from the moment the bypass was built.
With skill and subtlety, the major part of this valley can help solve several problems for the city while people will be able to walk on a wedge of downland from which they have been barred for far too long.