Developments On The Seafront
Most residents know that a viewing pod on a pole, cunningly labelled the “i360” to suggest it is cool, is scheduled to be built any time now, on the seafront, up where the West Pier kiosks moulder. In fact, planning consent for “the i360” expires on October 25th and they have still to cobble together the last £20 million needed to proceed (one has heard). Unsatisfied Conditions of Planning Consent (one of which involves the Brighton Sailing Club) will further block a start any time soon. And the West Pier cadaver crumbles on.
Replacement vultures are circling, however, directly threatening the future of the last of the organised boating activities still allowed to occupy and use Brighton beach between the piers – sailing.
Over the summer The Argus splashed with news of a 60 metre, spoke-less steel ring with observation capsules which developers propose putting on the seafront, right alongside the Brighton Sailing Club & just below the boarded-up West Pier kiosks (24.7.09). This glorified Ferris wheel would, either on its own, or in tandem with the “i360”, create disturbing and surreal visual noise right in front of our prized Metropole and Grand hotels. Who in their right mind would still book expensive, prestige rooms in either hotel once sea views are blocked by vast airborne gewgaws, supported on the ground by bulky, noisy fairground mechanics?
The Argus also informed us that no further Party Conferences are expected to book the Brighton Centre after this year’s Labour Party Conference (with fringe meetings and lodgings booked into and around the Metropole and Grand hotels). And the Brighton Centre alone is blamed. The identified need is to have it demolished with a mega-treat, connected to Churchill Square at the back, put up in its place.
I don’t buy that the loss of the seafront conference trade is just about The Brighton Centre facilities. Brighton itself is a contributing factor.
Drugs, alcohol, clubs and an over-reliance on transient youth & student culture have all left their indelible mark on Brighton (less so on Hove). Brighton is the destination of choice for the human equivalent of graffiti & there is an obvious gearing of commercial activity and investment that caters to them (and, sadly, I include the annual Pride carnival in this category along with Fat Boy Slim on the beach). Gotta get the kids in, right? Gotta stay on message and keep selling “vibrant” & “diverse”, right? I could write a whole essay on the disvalued diversity now lost to Brighton & Hove forever.
The economy now seems locked into vulgar, chav and “vibrant” mode. How are the “i360” and proposed “Brighton O” better than that? What kind of moneyspinners can they realistically expect to be? Are the views over the city really so special? When the sea air causes it to rust or crust, the “Brighton O” can be moved off (transportable) but the “i360” is to be driven into the fissured chalk to quite a depth to accommodate the 4-metre diameter & extremely tall central pole above ground with its pod going up and down, up and down. Planning consent did not ask for, require, or get any information on how the devil you decommission the “i360” when the time comes …
If Brighton per se and the Brighton Centre can’t deliver class, gravitas, culture, ambience, or whatever political parties need to hold their annual conferences here, why would the kind of person with the kind of money to book a room at the Grand Hotel come here either? What is the city per se, doing to sell itself as a good host to the kind of person these hotels need to bring in if they are to survive?
Brighton & Hove were once the destination of choice for royalty & the wealthy, dignified high rollers? What is offered now for the kind of visitor who reveres and wants to wallow in the grand Regency seafront Brighton & Hove possesses? If I may borrow from The Doors’ Jim Morrison: “what have we done to our fair city”?
And how does it change tack?
Directly below the Grand and Metropole hotels, based in the seafront arches, are a kayak club and the Brighton Sailing Club. By the club entrances the wall-mounted remains of Royal National Life Boat signs remind us this was once an RNLI station. Not so long ago, fish were sold direct from catches on this section of beach where fishermen also kept their boats. Moved along. Gone to the Shoreham harbour area now. Some are moored at the Marina. Not sophisticated enough, perhaps, for the City-by-the-Sea craving urban bling.
Looking at what Brighton & Hove City Council have done with the seafront over recent years, it is clear that a march of facilities and space-gobbling public art has steadily made its way towards the Brighton Sailing Club from the Brighton Pier (still the Palace Pier to many of us), whilst making no concessions to the long-held boating traditions around this spot whatsover. I’m told the boats keep getting moved further up the beach. Pesky boats. Tsk. And I sense that the Sailing Club is being left behind, that it too is in real danger of being edged out and pushed off the beach altogether.
One can count 35 catamarans and 5 other small sailing craft in a line along the pebbles in front of the arches clubhouse and changing rooms. The passing public sit on the “cats”, use them for photos, vandalise them. Even so, the Brighton Sailing Club has a waiting list of another 20 people looking to be based there.
Sailing is a class act. The healthy world of sailing should be good for Brighton’s tarnished image but there isn’t enough of it to over-ride the bad stuff. It is a discipline that offers physical and mental development, year-round pleasure & activity on the water with enhanced sea views for the rest of us. When sailboats are on the water, crowds form to look at them. Club members don’t even need to own their own boat. It is a sport, with a clean, respectable image, practised by men & women from all walks of life. Brighton Sailing Club members John Davys & James Parrott worry deeply now about what impact the proposed developments (“i360” & “Brighton O”) could have on the future of their sailing club.
Two basketball courts (with smashed night lamps on poles), two different areas of “public art” and two inflatable soccer pitches now encroach from either side of the little patch of beach where boats and sailing are still tolerated. The glorified Ferris wheel proposed for the area where the cheap and nasty inflatable soccer pitches currently rest would overhang the sailing club’s space, squeezing them still further. Walking along this area, one feels hemmed in by a lot of different objects & activities, all there, jumbled up too closely. On a warm summer’s day it is heaving with visitors. But what about when it rains or in winter?
And what’s in it for the Metropole or Grand Hotel visitor just above them? People do not spend hundreds of pounds a night to stay in hotel rooms overlooking a basketball court with broken lighting round it, “Brighton O’s”, a viewing pod going up and down or feral night life. We need to raise our game to attract the serious leisure spenders to these wonderful hotels. Does Brighton & Hove City Council really care – or will we see those hotels fail and attract developers who will convert them into flats? Sailing, directly overlooked by The Grand Hotel and The Metropole, if promoted and expanded into the adjacent areas would surely also promote the long-term survival of our flagship hotels quid pro quo and generally raise the tone of the area.
I somehow don’t believe that Brighton & Hove City Council has a year-round beach strategy that involves the Brighton Sailing Club or that it is valued or particularly welcome to remain on the seafront any more than the fishermen were. Why is this? Eastbourne has an internationally famous tennis tournament. Classy. Cowes has an internationally famous sailing week. Classy. The Henley Regatta. Classy. Brighton has……what? A mania for encouraging developers to erect huge blocks of flats along the seafront “that will put Brighton & Hove on the map” are all I’ve seen so far this century along with a wannabe wish to be labelled a Capital of Culture. Development strategies that are about throwing up huge buildings and “attractions” all over the seafront betray a lack of confidence and a kind of egotistical bluffing about culture.
Where is sailing on Brighton & Hove’s calendar of feted events to put the City on some part of anyone’s map? Why do the surfers at the Marina have to compete with developers to retain their bit of sea activity? Why is the Marina being turned into a housing estate? The city has filled the beach with petanque rinks, basketball, volleyball, etc. – all of which are constrained in their use by the weather, all of which one would like to see inland in parks and open spaces dedicated to play and sport for people of all ages. None of what is on the beach (Sailing and Kayak clubs apart) is in any way connected with the sea itself – our unique selling point!
Why hasn’t the Council enlisted sailing as a way to help counter the drug-death capital of England tag and the view of Brighton & Hove that got us featured in a guidebook called “Crap Cities”?
Development should be about retaining and ‘bigging-up’ worthwhile, permanent community asset organisations like the Brighton Sailing Club. Clear the seafront, I say, and bring on the windsurfing, sail boats and regattas. Quid pro quo, the city, the sailing club membership, the Metropole and Grand Hotels could all be doing each other a few long-term image and economic favours. And it counts as culture, dont’cha know!