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Local Authority Public Relations: More Front Than Brighton

Following many decades of criminal neglect by successive city councils (and many bunfights over whose fault it is – in truth, ALL of theirs!), Brighton and Hove City Council has at the 11th hour launched an incredibly cheeky Save Madeira Terraces crowdfunding campaign to save one of the city’s most iconic structures.

It is urging citizens to dig deep into their pockets for a second time (on top of their council tax) to fund the estimated £24million repair costs for Madeira Terraces. Local authority public relations own goals rarely seem so blatant or irksome.

Local authority public relations - Madeira Terraces Closed Off

Local authority public relations – Madeira Terraces Closed Off

Meanwhile, the council has closed all of the businesses in the Terraces and suspended at least half of the 363 cash-cow parking spaces for safety reasons.

And yet it continues to accept large fees to close Madeira Drive off for yearly vintage car rallies, marathons and biker gatherings.

Bizarrely, it seems none of the money raised by Madeira Drive can be used to save its integral historic arches and terraces, despite parking revenue being poured into largely unwanted road “improvement” schemes in other areas of the city. Nor apparently can the £1.4million kitty left from the many public donations to West Pier Trust following its catastrophic failure to save or recreate West Pier after the Trust’s more than 40 years of existence.

What terrible public relations this is for the City of Brighton & Hove!

Local authority public relations - Madeira Terraces Proposed Redevelopment

Local authority public relations – Madeira Terraces Proposed Redevelopment

Worrying plans are being bandied about proposing “redevelopment” of the 1890-built Grade II-listed Arches rather than simple restoration – the aim being to fill the famed covered walkway with glass-box restaurants and upmarket panoramic flats, reducing the Terraces and Arches to little more than a wrought-iron cake decoration to frame them. Disgraceful!

Let’s remember the original intention of this covered walkway was to enable bad weather “promenading” – and while promenading may have fallen out of fashion (except in or on motor transport), having somewhere to walk and inhale the sea air when it rains is always in fashion.

The Terraces also contain a cliff-lift to Marine Parade, around which a single storey café or waiting room was originally constructed. At the east end lies a popular live music venue, formerly the Victorian tea rooms.

Directly opposite this venue a proposed “SeaLanes” complex threatens to delete the seafront vista for the benefit of a select few who can afford overpriced apartments on the beach, with the public sop of a new outdoor swimming facility, albeit in competition with the nearby and recently restored Saltdean Lido.

It has not escaped public notice that the controversial, and commercially questionable, i360 seafront attraction won a £36million public loan for its construction but the Terraces have been denied this luxury for their restoration.

Moreover, the Council recently failed to win a £4million funding bid from the Government’s Coastal Communities Fund to kickstart repairs to the Terraces on the grounds that the Council had a duty of care not to allow them to fall into disrepair and it was not the Fund’s job to reward years of corporation neglect by recognising the rescue of the Terraces as a one-off special project.

You can see their point. Also, what guarantee would there be that this neglect wouldn’t simply be repeated again until the next crisis requiring an emergency handout?

Lousy local authority public relations

All of which amounts to lousy public relations for Brighton & Hove and its lacklustre local authority.

It was once a city which, older residents wistfully recall, made strenuous efforts to paint all its wrought ironwork, tend its award-winning flowerbeds, polish its plentiful public toilets and, generally, get the seafront ready for the season each year, roadworks finished, and with a full programme of summer shows at the Hippodrome – which is also at risk – and in both piers (both pier theatres are now gone, in one case, along with the pier).

Nowadays, it is hard to imagine a European city more disrespectful and disregarding of the things that made it famous than Brighton & Hove or which so willingly allows itself to be overridden by the graffiti vandals who increasingly proliferate, unchallenged, to rule the city and bring it down to their level.

The city sightseeing tour buses must be increasingly struggling to have enough landmarks to show visitors.

Madeira Terraces were indeed identified by the Victorian Society, in 2015, as being in the top 10 at-risk Victorian and Edwardian buildings.

The political posturing over Madeira Terraces goes on, one suspects, with the aim of sneaking developers in by the backdoor to inject their glass-fronted fiendishness under the guise of restoring heritage.

An interesting thread on a Brighton Argus story also suggested that West Pier Trust is actually behind Save Madeira Terraces crowdfunding project.

The Trust did after all act as enabler to the i360 and are and now its landlords. So, they have form.

Revealing comments from the comment thread include:

ave Madeira Terrace20th August 10:03 am
The 14.2m raised from the Heritage Lottery Fund was withdrawn in 2004 after the arson attacks. The HLF deemed the pier un-restorable.
The monies raised in 2011 and 2012 from the sale of pier fragments is in a designated heritage and education fund. We have used some of it on our ongoing education programme and towards work on the Trusts [sic] salvaged octagonal kiosk which we intend to restore as a heritage centre sited on the landscaped area east of the pier and the i360.
Funds raised through subscriptions, smaller donations and rental income have always gone towards the Trusts [sic] running costs (e.g. keeping the office going and the usual overheads associated with running any, albeit small, organisation).
Naturally all this information is available in our annual accounts

rolivan 20th August 10:58 am
Are you saying that you are involved with both the Terraces and The West Pier Trust or are you quoting when you
say as in OUR accounts?

Some have said West Pier Trust has no right to still exist.

It miserably failed to save the finest pier in Victorian England – allegedly by refusing to start work until all the money was raised, creating a situation where no further money came in because work had NOT begun – and, therefore, nothing happened.

Meanwhile, the Grade I-listed structure was left to rot unprotected by alarms or CCTV until the fateful night when it was arsoned in March 2003, and, subsequently, razed again two months later, right under Trust’s nose, still with no alarm or CCTV protection, to leave the irrepairable depressing skeleton that remains now.

West Pier Trust, with a well-paid CEO, now laughably claims to educate schools (on what – saving heritage?) and to run a West Pier exhibition (watch it and weep), amid acting as landlord for the i360 land and former pierhead for which it paid the Council nominal £100 in 1975.

It also alludes to planning a “modern pier” to replace West Pier, but that would represent a double betrayal of what it was set up to do, and what the public donated money to it for, which was to save the historic pier.

Local authority public relations - Madeira Terraces Heyday

Local authority public relations – Madeira Terraces Heyday

Perhaps the Trust is angling to obtain the Terraces for £100 from the Council as well.

But in view of its track record, West Pier Trust is the very last organisation that should be trusted with an irreplaceable piece of Brighton heritage. You might as well give away the keys to developers like the i360 gang.

We urgently need an RSPCHS – A Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Historic Structures.

One with teeth and enforcement powers. Once these structures are gone, they are gone forever. A blue plaque is not an adequate replacement for lost human history.

Brighton & Hove betrayed the heritage in its care with the West Pier debacle. Now it is shamefully holding out the begging bowl to the public, asking them to pay again for a service they should already have received from their local authority.

The Council needs to be watched like a hawk to ensure it does not attempt another shabby deal with the West Pier Trust, ensuring the permanent destruction of more of the city’s heritage and more ghastly modern substitutes like the “Brighton Pipe” (as Sir Simon Jenkins called the i360).

* Update: Would you believe it? Yesterday (Saturday, 2 September 2017), on one of the sunniest and busiest days of the year, Brighton & Hove City Council completely closed off Madeira Drive, including the cycle path and access to the cafes and shops, to rent out the space privately to a kit-car racing event. What a disgrace! And still none of the Council’s ill-gotten gains go to restoring Madeira Terraces!