CONSERVATIONISTS have raised concerns about the secrecy surrounding one of the largest development projects in the city’s history.

The Regency Society has called for more information to be made public about the £540 million Waterfront project for Brighton, saying they are concerned plans to build a new 10,000-capacity arena could be set in concrete before the city gets a say.

The civic group has warned the plans to also expand Churchill Square could see the “lively heart” of the city’s independent shops threatened by “a large, monolithic shopping centre”.

Brighton and Hove City Council directors said the authority was in negotiations with Standard Life Investments over a “complex land swap” but has committed to full engagement when talks have concluded.

It is planned to demolish the Brighton Centre and Kingswest cinema to expand Churchill Square shopping centre and fund a new “world-class” conference and events centre at Black Rock.

Architects WilkinsonEyre, who designed the Gateshead Millennium Bridge and the London Olympics’ basketball arena as well as drawing up initial designs for the Madeira Terraces, are developing a masterplan for the scheme, expected to create 2,000 jobs and bring £4.6 million annually for the public purse.

Initial council timelines had anticipated public consultation to start around now to allow a planning application to be submitted next year.

In February the council was granted £12 million from Coast to Capital LEP towards the cost of redeveloping Black Rock which has been derelict for 30 years.

Regency Society chairman Roger Hinton said the major project could have serious repercussions for the city but residents and amenity groups have received minimal details.

The group is concerned about access to an expanded Churchill Square and the arena which is 2.5 miles from the city’s main railway station.

Mr Hinton said: “We are worried that a major deal is about to be struck which could make huge changes to our city. We are disappointed so little effort is being made to consult with interest groups and local people to ensure we share the council’s vision.”

Council leader Warren Morgan said: “I know the charge is sometimes made the council is too secretive. We want to engage with people as much as possible but obviously we have always got the concerns around the need to negotiate properly and privately with people without doing it in the full glare of publicity where things get taken out of context.

“It is balance that we have to strike and hopefully we are getting it right.”