THE i360 risks becoming an "expensive white elephant" after British Airways decided to end its sponsorship with the attraction amid a decline in visitors.

Councillor Dawn Barnett warned the split could mark the "beginning of the end" for the tower, which has suffered from low visitor numbers since it opened in 2016.

The structure is now urgently seeking new sponsors after it was announced the airline would not be supporting the site once naming rights expire on November 3, 2022.

Reacting to the split, the Conservative Hangleton and Knoll councillor slammed the tower as "expensive" while predicting that the 530-foot structure will be dismantled next year. She said the city should have retained the wheel which was to the east of the Palace Pier.

She told The Argus: "People that come down for the day, it costs a group of them nearly £100 to go up and down it.

"It was too expensive, it was never going to work.

"We should have kept the wheel and at the end of the day, we could have even had another pier back there."

"It is going to be the beginning of the end.

"It always was a white elephant - it was never going to work.

"With the amount of money that they borrowed on it- it was never going to work and that is it.

"Next year it will be dismantled."

The Argus: Dawn Barnett raised fears over the future of the i360Dawn Barnett raised fears over the future of the i360

Tickets for the i360 are from £16.50 for adults.

Her comments come as the attraction continues to fail to meet visitor targets having made a loss of more than £5 million in the year ending June 2020.

Just 195,754 people visited the attraction - around half the predicted target of 390,000.

Last month, a report to councillors revealed that the i360 is expected to miss another £1.5 million repayment to Brighton and Hove City Council at the end of next month.

The payments due to the city council come after the authority brokered a £36 million loan for the i360 from the government’s Public Works Loan Board – and the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) handed over a further £4 million.

The council has since taken over the LEP loan – at no cost to the council – but three years of missed payments mean that the i360 now owes more than £45 million in total.

The report in December said that i360 had a “strong beneficial impact … on the local economy” and “the attraction has acted as a positive beacon for seafront regeneration”.

It also said that lower than expected visitor numbers had led to repayments being deferred, adding: “In particular, the Covid pandemic has had a significant impact on income and cashflow into the i360."

The Argus: The i360 owes millions of pounds to the councilThe i360 owes millions of pounds to the council

Brighton and Hove City council said "no element of the debt" has been written off as a result of the split with the sponsor.

A spokesman said: “Seeking sponsorship is a matter for the i360 management to arrange and negotiate, not the council.

“Our cross-party members working group has expressed its hope that the i360 will seek a sponsor that shares the values of our city.

“Ultimately, however, this is a matter for the i360.

“We continue to work constructively with the i360 around the long term loan restructure.

“No element of the debt has been written off, and the terms of the repayments will not be affected by the outcome of any new sponsorship arrangements.”

The Argus: The i360 has proved controversial since opening in 2016The i360 has proved controversial since opening in 2016

The news that the structure could face further financial difficulty was met with mixed emotions from residents, with some eager to see the tower which is now a "part of Brighton" remain.

Ben Madelin, Jade McIlhotton, and Julia Tester, who have visited the structure several times said it would be a "shame" to see the i360 go if bosses are unable to find a sponsorship.

While Mieke, who has been living in Brighton for two years, and chose not to give her surname, said the building is now a "part of the city".

She said: "I've never been up it.

"I think it is a part of Brighton but also a waste of space.

"The seafront should be for the public."

Social media users were quick to speculate who could take over the tower, with some suggesting that vaccine creators Pfizer and drink giants Coca Cola would fit.

Facebook user Lisa Pickard said that American Express should sponsor the attraction, alongside Brighton and Hove Albion, while one tweeter suggested it should go to the West Pier Trust, who own the land on which the tower stands.

Announcing the split, Ian Hart, chief operating officer of Brighton i360, said: “We have enjoyed a really successful partnership with British Airways since Brighton i360 opened in August 2016.

"The globally recognised BA brand helped to catapult Brighton i360 on to the international stage from the very beginning.

"Due to this positive relationship, British Airways extended the original sponsorship term of five years back in August 2021 for a further 15 months.

"We have now agreed a completion date of November 3, 2022."

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