THE boss of Brighton’s Palace Pier wants to takeover the i360 and manage it on behalf of the council.

Top businessman Luke Johnson has called on city chiefs to refuse the viewing tower’s request to delay £6 million of loan repayments over the next six years.

Mr Johnson wrote to the council: “I wish to protest strongly over the arrangement being proposed by the council executive and the struggling i360 attraction.

“This project was funded with over £40m of public money – most of it from Brighton & Hove Council."

The council borrowed £36.2 million from the Government to loan on to the i360 and is due to be paid back £570,000 in interest twice a year on top of the loan repayments which are passed back to the Government.

But as visitor numbers have not been as high as predicted the tower is asking the council to reduce those £570,000 repayments to £25,000 until 2024 while they build the business.

This totals £6 million up until 2024, when bosses would restore full payments and repay the deferred amount.

The scheme cost £46.2 million in total.

The Government’s Coast to Capital local enterprise partnership also loaned £4 million, which i360 bosses want to pay back as it is accruing higher interest.

Mr Johnson said public money for the project represents 87 per cent of the capitalisation of the project.

In his letter to Brighton and Hove City Council he added: “It is quite inconceivable that any normal lender would have extended nearly as much money as a proportion of the whole funding for a pure start-up.

“Now, to compound that mistake, you are recommending that the council approve a debt rescheduling which represents a 96 per cent reduction in interest payments for i360 over the next six years.

“Under the current i360 management visitor numbers are roughly half the original projections on which the loan was based.

“Given that woeful performance, it is inconceivable that a “commercial lender would agree to these restructuring proposals” – as asserted in your document.

“I have extensive experience of debt restructuring – and in these circumstances the lender would seek to repossess the security and change the management.”

He added: “Consequently it is clear that the proposed rescheduling is not state aid compliant and that the council should not approve it.

“Brighton Pier Group is a significant employer and payer of business rates in Brighton. I am also involved with other businesses locally which are major employers and pay significant business rates. We do not get this sort of special treatment.

“Why is the council favouring one particular business?

“The council would be in breach of its fiduciary responsibilities towards local citizens and businesses if it were to prop up a project which has underperformed so badly.

“As an alternative, Brighton Pier Group PLC would be willing to take on a management contract to run the i360 attraction on behalf of the Council.

“We are confident that we could make savings and efficiencies across the two businesses in areas like marketing, procurement, accounting, HR, IT and other administration costs.

“We are also confident we could cross-market the two attractions and thereby boost visitor numbers and events.

“This recommendation would give the Council a much better chance of earlier receipt of interest, and an improved chance that its loan was ultimately repaid in full.

“Currently there must be a serious possibility that the i360 is worth significantly less than it cost to build.

“Our suggestion is surely a better solution than continuing to support a management team which has seen frequent leadership changes and has not met targets.”