SEAFRONT traders say they have been left unable to pay rent amid a road closure and the coronavirus fallout.

Some businesses in Madeira Drive, Brighton, have lost up to 80 per cent of their trade and cannot meet their rent obligations to Brighton and Hove City Council.

The issue has been taken up with the MP for the area, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who has approached the council to ask for rent reductions.

Trevor Archard has owned the Seagulls café at the western end of the road since 2003 and is set to speak to councillors at a crunch meeting on Thursday.

He said: “I’m going to tell councillors that as soon as the road is opened, I’m going to tell traders that they have to pay the rent.

The Argus:

“Some people can’t pay and haven’t done so, others are not paying due to Covid rent deferral.

“Personally, I have paid the March quarter, but not this one.”

The road was shut to cars in April and is currently closed to traffic between the Aquarium roundabout and Concorde 2.

Traders say the closure has made a bad situation worse and want the road reopened while city planners work on a long-term scheme.

“We’ve had everything this year, Covid, road closure, what’s next? A plague of frogs?” Mr Archard said.

The Argus:

The call is echoed by pier boss Anne Ackord, who told The Argus this week that if the road was not reopened, some businesses would not survive.

Those who work in the road say some businesses are more affected than others by the road closure.

Traders’ anecdotal evidence suggests an increased number of residents using the road, but a reduction in visitors from outside the city.

The result, traders say, is that businesses relying on those visitors, including the “thousands per day” who used to arrive by coach, are greatly struggling.

However, businesses which offer something for residents of the city have been comparatively all right.

Mr Archard said: “It’s a case by case basis, some people might be 50 per cent down, others, who rely on the tourists, are 80 per cent down.”

Mr Archard said he would like to see the road reopened while infrastructure, including public transport, could be improved before its closure is considered.

At the eastern end of the road, people have been packing out venues such as the Bison Beer Beach Bar since the road closure.

Unlike before, drivers are now allowed to park at this end of the road, which is accessible from Black Rock.

The Argus:

Marshals now guard barriers near Concorde 2 to stop drivers from travelling further westwards.

Harry Smith manages Bison Beer Beach Bar which opened on July 4.

It can be found near the newly erected barriers.

He said: “You’re starting to see a lot of regular faces and not visitors, but numbers are difficult to measure because we are a pop-up with no comparable data.

“We reach capacity on a nice day though and we have had quite a few residents saying ‘it’s great there’s something for us this way’.

The Argus:

“I think that if they’re going to take that amount of parking away, they need to think about what infrastructure they are going to be replacing it with.

“It’s fine to take things away – the changes they have made have made the atmosphere nicer – but it’s not easy for some people to access.”

Accessibility for disabled and older people has been highlighted as an important issue that needs addressing.

The Argus:

Previously, bays for blue badge holders have been located on the western end of the road, close to the disabled changing facilities, cafes and Brighton Palace Pier.

This means disabled people face making the journey along the road without their vehicle and the move was labelled as “discrimination” by traders and pier boss, Anne Ackord.

The Argus visited the road yesterday as council workers were installing the barriers outside Concorde 2. We were told by marshals that no blue badge holders were being allowed through the gate.

The Argus:

When contacted about the issue, a council spokesman said stewards will now be allowing access for anyone looking to use the changing facilities.

'A compromise plan'

The Conservative group on the council have come up with a “five-part Madeira Drive upgrade plan” to address issues on the road.

This includes:

  • Making a one-lane, one-way street on the northern part of the road. The southern side would be used as a cycle lane.
  • Restoring Madeira Terrace arches, which currently provide a crumbling backdrop to the pedestrianised street, would get immediately under way using the £11 million brokered by Cllr Joe Miller in February.
  • Using parking revenue on the road, which under the previous layout generated about £1.3 million a year, to boost the funds needed to regenerate the arches.
  • Upgrading the vacant Black Rock site, which has been “run down and under used” for more than 40 years.
  • Exploring the possibility of extending the Volk’s Railway east to the marina and west to the i360.

    Conservative group leader Steve Bell, spearheading the proposals, said: “Combined with major investment and parking reform, we could make an upgrade the symbol of this City’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, something that we could all be proud of.

The Argus:

“This proposal to revitalise Madeira Drive would unite the city, boost our economy, tourism industry and jobs, restore our city’s heritage and give us all something to be proud of.”

Both Cllr Bell and Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, agree that compromise is needed.

However Mr Russell-Moyle believes that the road needs to remain shut to avoid “going back to square one”.

He said: “There is a compromise here and I don’t think it is helped by people being absolutist. It’s incredibly difficult to keep opening and closing the road.

'We have the ability to close the road now and reopen the right bits at a later stage. But if you reopen the road, you start all over again and begin a delay.”

The Labour MP agreed with a number of proposals suggested for the road, including using some of the parking revenue to fund restoration of the arches and addressing disability access issues caused by removal of bays.

He also thought access could be allowed to some parts of the road, namely between the Aquarium roundabout entrance and the end of the parade of shops.

The Argus:

“People do need to be flexible to find a solution,” Mr Russell-Moyle said.

“However it shouldn’t be turned into a rat run – a big car park in front of a listed structure.”

A crunch council meeting on the future of the road is taking place on Thursday. Two rival petitions – one to reopen it and another to keep it closed – will be presented to councillors.

Councillor Amy Heley, who co-chairs the environment committee said: “We appreciate that many local residents and traders have strong views on the use of Madeira Drive, including current arrangements that mean it is open to walkers and cyclists, but with general motor vehicle access restricted.

“As part of Covid-19 guidance, councils across the UK have been encouraged to make more space available to aid socially distanced walking, exercise, cycling and play. This has led to an exploration of what can be done to improve safety in different parts of the city. The existing cycle lane on the promenade, for example, is not wide enough for adapted disability cycles or cargo bikes and runs straight through busy pedestrian areas.

“The council has already heard from people welcoming the changes and those who are concerned it will have a long-term impact. All these views will be taken into account when council meets to discuss this issue.”