A seachange is being prepared for Brighton and Hove’s internationally renowned seafront. Peter Truman looks at how the successes of two decades ago could inspire the future.

The seafront is Brighton and Hove’s biggest attraction today, pulling in hundreds of millions of pounds to the local economy each year.

But back in the early 1990s, Brighton promenade was struggling and the economy was in recession.

In 1992, the Seafront Development Initiative was unveiled, converting the King’s Road Arches into a vibrant stretch of cafes, restaurants and other attractions and breathing life into the area.

Twenty years later, the situation feels eerily familiar with the economy in a challenging state and the seafront looking to take on the competition and safeguard its future.

The strategy, unveiled by Brighton and Hove City Council this week, reads: “Representatives of other British seaside resorts are envious of what has been achieved, but it is essential that continuous improvement takes place to ensure the value of the Seafront is not only maintained but enhanced for the city.”

Councillor Geoffrey Bowden, chair of the environment committee, which will discuss the strategy on Thursday, said: “We can’t be complacent, we have to look to the future and ensure the seafront continues to thrive.

“We want to broaden and enhance its appeal for visitors and residents – widening out the main tourist area beyond the two piers and providing more year round appeal.”

He said that despite the recession, the seafront was still attracting investment.

Under the proposals, Brighton and Hove City Council has split the seafront into six different areas, each with its own flavour.

Suggested zones

  • Hove Lagoon to King Alfred has been earmarked as a stretch for sport, with a revamped King Alfred Leisure Centre as the focal point.
  • King Alfred to the Peace Statue would be a magnet for outdoor events.
  • The area from the Peace Statue to the Ellipse statue will be focused on the i360 and the opening up the old arches east and west of West Pier.
  • From the Ellipse statue to Palace Pier, which saw the most investment in 1992, the council hopes to concentrate on the redevelopment of the Brighton Centre and improvements around the Palace Pier entrance.
  • The Palace Pier to Brighton Marina will become a hub of public art exhibitions. It is also hoped that a new redevelopment will happen at Black Rock.
  • The final stretch from Roedean to Saltdean is earmarked for recreation with a new café, seating and a possible multiuse games area.

One way the council is hoping to stay ahead of the game, is encouraging more filming along the seafront.

The strategy reads: “At present filming does take place on an occasional basis, but a proactive approach to attracting film companies to use the seafront would more effectively exploit this potential opportunity to generate publicity and obtain income.”

West Pier

Roger Hinton, a member of the conservation group Regency Society, said he welcomed developments around the West Pier but was worried about other areas along the shore.

He said: “The i360 is going ahead and that will generate income for the council which they will hopefully use to smarten up the area. Having the consultation will be good.

“There has been lots of investment from Palace Pier to the Hove border so I am wondering just why the council wants to have a further consultation on that.

“But there is a distinction between the brash of Brighton, and Hove with its quiet cafes. I would be less keen on developments as there are big open spaces which people value.

“If they started putting developments there it would be a pity.”

Mr Hinton added the Regency Society would be opposed to developments on the south side of the seafront, which included Madeira Drive.

Julian Caddy, managing director Brighton Fringe, said: “I agree that it's essential that the seafront is addressed as a priority.

“I feel that there are very much two separate cities within Brighton with the inland and seafront parts operating almost in spite of each other and divided by an ugly bypass. So anything to bring the two together would be most welcome.

“For my part, anything that will improve the functionality for outdoor events and performances would be ideal. Adequate power and water supply and drainage are key to this.”

Joined-up thinking

Anne Martin, general manager of the Palace Pier, said the seafront around her attraction had been neglected.

She said: “There is no joined-up thinking on the seafront and the end where three major attractions are: The Pier, Sealife and Wheel is sadly neglected in term of signage and promotion.

“This area should be a major focus of the city’s tourism strategy and instead looks neglected.

“Obviously the parking price strategy is designed to successfully keep visitors away.”

Katie Mintram, director for sponsorship and planning at the Yellowave sports centre in Madeira Drive, said she was “really excited” about the chance of the area being developed.

She said: “We see Madeira Drive and it has such potential. It is mind boggling.

“It has such beautiful architecture and heritage and it feels like a wasted space.

“At the moment it is like a big car park. People come for special events and then leave again.

“We are really excited about redeveloping from Palace Pier all the way along to Black Rock.”

Arches showcase

Mrs Mintram said ideas such as a nature boardwalk and lighting showcasing the arches could make it a place to “promenade and exercise” away from the main strip.

Gavin George, of Inn Brighton which owns several pubs and clubs on the seafront, said any investment in the seafront was a good thing.

He added: “Anything that makes the seafront more attractive to visitors to come down, especially in winter, is welcome.

“Over the years it has improved greatly and operators are offering better retail.

“There has been investment but there are still areas along the seafront that would be grateful for more.”

Major developments

King Alfred Leisure Centre
A major redevelopment is planned for this seafront site, including a new sports centre.
Frank Gehry’s grand proposals for the aging building were scuppered in 2008 when financial backers pulled out as the economy nosedived.   

Brighton Centre
A mixed-use development including a new conference and exhibition centre is planned, but a funding gap remains and the long-promised transformation of the site has yet to start.

Plans to revive the West Pier have been superseded by the i360. The completion date for the 175metre-tower is March 2015 but questions marks remain over funding.

Black Rock
The “arena” redevelopment was ditched earlier this year. A new procurement will start in 2013 following research. The council now plans to bring sand sculptures to the site in the meantime.

Seafront facts

The seafront contributes an estimated £732million per year to the city’s economy and provides 17,500 jobs.

  • A quarter of a million people visit the area between the two piers on a sunny summer weekend
  • The seafront has been used as a filming location for a variety of films, TV programmes and advertisements, from Quadrophenia to Brighton Rock
  • The council owns more than 200 properties along the seafront, from beach chalets to artists' arches to nightclubs.
  • The Seafront has 2 items of sculpture that are by internationally renowned artists including the Afloat by Hamish Black.
  • There are 12 sports clubs already located on the Seafront
  • There are 21 cultural events being held on the Seafront during 2012.
  • The Seafront Operational Team and Beach Cleansing Operatives are on duty every day of the year from 6am including Christmas Day.
  • About 23 tonnes of rubbish is collected on busiest summer days. That’s the equivalent to 2.5 rubbish trucks.
  • The Seafront currently has two International Blue Flags and three National Quality Coast Awards.
  • In 2011, the Seafront Operational Team attended 179 first aid incidents

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