Eastbourne's lovingly restored bandstand is the jewel in the crown of the town's promenade. It opened for the season in glorious sunshine on Saturday and will play host to scores of concerts and fireworks displays during the summer.

Meanwhile its Brighton counterpart has stood derelict for 30 years.

Surrounded by fencing, it has been left untouched and unloved, a target for vandals. SIMON BARRETT looks at a tale of two bandstands.

THE derelict bandstand in Brighton looks as though it belongs in a seaside backwater long forgotten by holidaymakers.

In fact it sits on the seafront of one of the busiest tourist resorts in Britain. Brighton and Hove has become synonymous with glamour, culture and, latterly, wealth.

With the Gehry Towers and the i360 observation tower soon to complement the Royal Pavilion and Regency terraces, the city has become a hotbed of architectural innovation and style.

But all that can be forgotten in a flash with one look at the dilapidated Grade II-listed birdcage bandstand that sits on the seafront.

The eyesore has been derelict since the Seventies and campaigners say it is in danger of becoming the new West Pier - a symbol of decay and a microcosm of the kind of inertia which saw seaside towns across the country decline so badly with the advent of affordable package holidays to Spain.

If Brighton's bandstand is desperately in need of a little TLC, the opposite is true of its sister structure a few miles along the coast.

Eastbourne bandstand opened for the summer season with a week of live concerts and many more planned over the coming months.

The restored Thirties venue has become one of the biggest attractions in the town and plays host to concerts from jazz to swing and military bands.

The contrast has been brought sharply into focus as a petition urging action over the Brighton bandstand received its 1,000th signature this weekend.

Patricia Horne started the Save our Brighton Bandstand petition last month and hopes to hand it to Carol Theobald, the new mayor of Brighton, later this month.

She said: "It's been an absolute dereliction of duty for the authorities to let the bandstand get into such a state.

"We saw a similar state of affairs with the West Pier but restoring the bandstand would just be a fraction of the cost.

"We are constantly looking towards the future with all these big developments planned but we must not forget our past and allow the bandstand to be forgotten.

"It sends out the wrong message about the city.

"The petition has been going really well and 99 per cent of people have been completely supportive.

It just shows the strength of feeling out there.

"You just have to look at the success of the bandstand in Eastbourne to see how these traditional venues can thrive in the modern day and age.

"The bandstand can be the jewel in the crown of the seafront and can become yet another iconic image of Brighton."

The Argus recently revealed a decision on its future had been delayed yet again. September is now the earliest Brighton and Hove City Council will know whether its application for a lottery grant has been successful - three months later than had been expected.

The council originally applied for a £987,360 grant which was rejected in June last year. It submitted a new bid in February this year to try to get the project back on track.

The plans include a link bridge from Kingsway to the upper level of the two-storey bandstand, built in the 1880s, and a café in the lower level.

This time the council is prepared to stump up more money for the project, with £300,000 set aside and an application for £500,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Geoffrey Theobald, new chairman of the city council's environment committee, said the bandstand is one of his top priorities.

"This has gone on far too long, and in my opinion the previous administration were too slow in taking action over the bandstand.

"Everyone, from residents to tourists and councillors, wants to see the bandstand refurbished to sparkling order as soon as possible.

" How can we call ourselves this wonderful, bright city by the sea with the bandstand looking like that?

"This is certainly at the top of my list. I am endeavouring to move this forward as quickly as possible and I want to see progress long before September."

Meanwhile, in Eastbourne hundreds of people watched the opening concerts this weekend, which included an Abba tribute band.

Rob Kelly, 26, of Langney, Eastbourne, said: "The Abba' concert was excellent. The bandstand looks amazing at night.

"It has become an iconic image of Eastbourne now."

Bandstands are also traditionally a haunt for romantics of all ages. Richard Howlett and Zoe Sayer began dating in 1992 after meeting at Eastbourne bandstand, and the couple have returned to the bandstand every year to commemorate their first kiss.

Next year they will visit as husband and wife after romantic Richard, 34, surprised Zoe, 29, by proposing in their favourite place.

Zoe, a desk assistant for an investment company in London, said: "The bandstand will always be the most romantic place in the world for me.

"It's a real shame Brighton's bandstand has been left like that for so long. Hopefully they can restore it and some love stories can start there as well."

  • 'Disgraceful the council left it so long'

Jo Smith, 28, a charity worker from Hangleton, said of the Brighton bandstand: "It's a real shame that it has been left like this for so long.

"A lot of people don't even realise it's there. It would take a lot of effort but it's not too late to save the bandstand.

"It would be a great addition to the seafront."

Julie Emmerson, 41, a bus driver of Medina Villas, Hove, said: "They should try to recreate exactly what it was like when it was built.

"Brighton is so preoccupied with building wonderful new architecture that it has forgotten about the past."

Glynda Robinson, 27, a florist of Middle Street, Brighton, said: "It would be great to watch brass bands playing on the bandstand on a day like today.

"And it could play host to bigger concerts so it could become a really valued outdoor venue. It's a shame it's so near the busy King's Road because the traffic is loud, but there are definitely ways round it."

Richard Ford, 53, a retired postman of Centurion Road, Brighton, said: "I think it's an absolute disgrace that the council has left the bandstand like this for so long.

"The rest of the seafront is unrecognisable from 20- odd years ago, but this just stays the same. The council needs to pull its finger out and get it sorted as a priority."

Lou Cobbold, 35, a theatre stage manager of Medina Villas, Hove, said: "It just looks so old and decrepit - they should sort it out."

Andy Erskine, 33, a computer engineer of Seven Dials, Brighton, said: "The bandstand is just a mess. It's an embarrassment to the city and those responsible should hang their heads in shame."

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