Brighton and Hove has a hidden advantage compared to many similar types of council up and down England.

It owns a surprisingly large amount of land and buildings thanks mainly to the wisdom and caution of councillors in the past.

The council possesses thousands of houses and flats which, despite sales in the past 30 years, still produces a huge stock of social housing.

It also has industrial estates which provide plenty of jobs.

Councillors are in charge of schools which have large land holdings.

Open spaces

They own open spaces such as Preston Park (66 acres) and Wish Park (12 acres). They have sports centres, swimming pools and bowling greens.

More unusually, the council has large commercial holdings such as much of Western Road on the northern side.

It also owns extensive tracts of downland, not only within the city boundaries but also in those of neighbouring authorities like Lewes.

Those holdings provide a remarkably large amount of the council’s income through rents, charges and fees. They also provide power over and above planning controls.

A good example is the West Pier where there may eventually be a bid to provide a new pier stretching out to sea.

If councillors did not like the proposals they could reject them but it is always possible for the applicants to appeal and win. The council could still halt progress because it happens to own a small but crucial part of the land.

Ownership has been a powerful influence in forming the modern city. Soon after the Second World War the council bought Stanmer House and Park at a knock down price from the Earl of Chichester.

It then started Sussex University by disposing of much parkland for the new campus at a peppercorn rent, one of the best decisions councillors ever made.

When a new conference centre was badly needed in the 1970s, the council sold assets to help pay for it.

The sale included a farm at Falmer, building land at Portslade and the so-called Golden Area – valuable property off the London Road north of Preston Park. Without those sales, we would have no Brighton Centre today.

Brighton also secured its future as a major shopping centre by selling Churchill Square to Standard Life in the 1990s. This gave the developers confidence to build in the resort’s centre at a time when out-of-town shopping schemes were all the rage.

Sometimes ownership can be stultifying. The council never could make a profit on its parks cafes because it was too inflexible to run them commercially.

It also contrived to lose money on the pub it ran, the Withdean Sportsman, despite its marvellous location before wisely letting a brewery chain take over.


The council also was sensible to sell downland such as Devil’s Dyke and Saddlescombe to the National Trust which possessed greater expertise in conservation.

Councillors occasionally look longingly at the property portfolio and the potential it has for solving many of the city’s problems.

The buildings and surrounding land at Portslade Town Hall in Victoria Road could possibly be put to better use.

On a bigger scale, the council is thinking of selling its headquarters, King’s House on Hove seafront, and moving somewhere less expensive.

This could free several million pounds for developments that would benefit the city, such as a new sports centre.

The council could also use its land ownership to redevelop the King Alfred leisure centre without proposing such a large commercial development on the site as last time.

It still owns the Brighton Centre, vital for complex talks with other owners such as Standard Life about the area’s future.

Brighton also owns the Black Rock site where skaters are always waiting hopefully for new rinks. It also has ultimate control over what happens at the Marina through ownership there.

It could also start a series of imaginative and attractive family leisure projects on Madeira Drive where there are plenty of suitable sites.

There will always be concern over what former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan called selling the family silver. Once land or buildings are disposed of, it is usually impossible to buy them back.

But there is huge potential in that largely secret property portfolio for deals that would lead the city out of recession and enable it to keep ahead of ambitious rivals. Brighton and Hove could make far better use of the extraordinarily rich variety of assets it is so lucky to possess.

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