Last week I visited the newly refurbished Corn Exchange and the Roger Bamber exhibition at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. The Corn Exchange is stunning. It blends the history of the venue – which has hosted everything from ice rinks to suffragette meetings – with high quality performance spaces, restoring an intricate wooden roof that had for many years been plastered over. The flexibility and design quality of the spaces means it can now be used by everyone, from school groups to pensioners and disabled residents.

The Bamber exhibition next door was mesmerising. He captured our city from behind his lens, with rare flair and imagination. Shots of the Brighton Festival through the ages; the field that would become our Amex stadium and now hosts our world-class football club; and artists and musicians from Freddie Mercury to Mick Jagger. And what’s so clear from his photographs is that he also put Brighton on the map. National newspaper shots of our city through the 80s, 90s and 00s show it in all its glorious eccentricity.

Following the completion of our Corn Exchange we, alongside the Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust, are together moving to phase two of the restoration project – an application for £4.4 million to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

This bid is to fund an ambitious restoration and redesign of our historic Royal Pavilion Gardens and is part of a wider project to help all the different spaces in the estate work together. It includes plans for new plants and pathways, an education hub, original railings and more.

Importantly – and I understand the huge resident interest in this – our administration has decided to allocate £250,000 to a new Pavilion Gardens public toilet which will include a Changing Places toilet for disabled residents and visitors.

The Royal Pavilion Gardens and the cafe matter to residents and are a key visitor destination in the city. It is important that we have an accessible toilet there that everyone, including the elderly and disabled, can use.

So we are also working to ensure that there are accessible toilets available in the gardens while we wait to find out if our bid is successful. From September, when the Van Gogh exhibition ends, the Corn Exchange’s two sets of toilets will be available to the public on the ground and first floor, close to the New Road entrance.

Significantly, and in a departure from the previous Green administration, your Labour council has also decided that the gardens must be open 24 hours. The Royal Pavilion Gardens has been a public park for well over a century and it must remain public. A lockable gate is not a good idea, whatever the original intention, as it would have risked a slide towards the gardens being closed off to the public for events and fundamentally changed the nature of our open-to-everyone space.

With a future third bid for the estate, we are fully committed to doing what we can to ensure that the two new statues proposed by residents for the gardens can be made and exhibited. One is the Indian Soldiers statue – a monument to the many thousands of Indian soldiers who fought in the First World War, 12,000 of who were later nursed at the Pavilion. The statue is proposed by the Royal Pavilion Indian Statue Project and would be made up of three life-size soldiers each representing the main religions of the soldiers at the military hospital.

The second is a statue of Mary Clarke, the first suffragette to die for a women’s right to vote, who lived in our city. Despite her sacrifice, Mary has no permanent statue to her anywhere in the UK. The Mary Clarke Statue appeal was set up in 2018 and aims to erect a bronze statue of her in the Royal Pavilion Garden. In the words of the chair of the trustees “it will provide an image of female courage and political leadership encouraging women and girls to participate in civic life”.

As a mixed heritage woman in public life I couldn’t agree more. Both statues provide vital historical context for the gardens. They will connect the girls and women of this city and our global majority communities with the city’s heritage – in pride of place in our world-class Royal Palace estate.

We recognise concerns about antisocial behaviour in the gardens and surrounding areas which is why we are now also pressing ahead with plans to bring partners together to address this issue and its underlying complexities, including identifying greater funding to tackle the challenge.

Benches and gardens don’t create antisocial behaviour and removing them doesn’t end it, it merely moves it somewhere else. We need a proper strategy to tackle street homelessness, addiction and mental health.

And that is what we are working towards.