Brighton already has an environmental crisis with illegal levels of airborne particulate and nitrogen dioxide throughout the city centre.  Our city streets are sadly among the most polluted in the UK.  REFERENCES? Radical, evidence-based solutions are called for with an open, transparent process that properly engages with the community.
The 'Valley Gardens' redevelopment was originally conceived as a way of addressing these concerns; enhancing access to the city centre with a shared ambition to improve the environment and the local economy together. It is a publicly funded project to the tune of around £18m including around £16m from Central Government.
The original outline scheme was widely discussed over many years and had been broadly accepted by the community as well as elected councillors. But a more detailed ‘Phase 3’ for the Old Steine area developed by a closed group of consultants, lobbyists and council officers in late 2018 has been suddenly fast-tracked into approval shattering that consensus.
WITH SO MUCH AGREED, WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS WITH THE CURRENT PLANS?
•  The lack of proper consultation with residents, businesses, public sector organisations, heritage groups and the public in surveying the use of the area and then drawing up the current plans.
•   The lack of appropriate environmental impact assessment with regard to concerns for air quality, noise pollution, traffic movement and displacement.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
•   The unexpected proposal to merge public transport with private vehicle traffic and consequent loss of the city’s key public transport hub around the Old Steine.
•   The potential marginalisation of Kemptown and the east of the city throughout the current ‘preferred’ scheme.
•   Little sign of the promised enhancement to biodiversity in the city centre.
•   The proposed introduction of a new continuous bike lane through the area is welcome - but there should be a network. And the single proposed route cuts right through new pedestrianised areas before joining vehicle traffic - against all recent government guidelines. Surely we can separate all these.
•   The loss of the west side two-way bus lane with the Art Deco bus stops is unexpected and was immediately criticised by bus users, bus operators and taxi firms. This means 224 peak-time buses per hour are forced into the general stop-start traffic. This makes no sense.
•   The new plan proposes to funnel public transport and private vehicles into 5-lanes of two-way traffic directly in front of the residential premises and dividing the city centre in two.  Levels of air and noise pollution would inevitably increase. Instead of enhanced pedestrian access the east of the Steine, in front of the residences, would lose three metres of pavement to allow this which would prevent the Kemptown Arch concept.
•   Replacing the pier roundabout with a T-junction could jam the A259 coast road and is likely to disperse traffic into the east of the city's residential streets.
•   Traffic modelling for the scheme was restricted to typical UK urban weekday rush hour times and ignored our unique Brighton-focused weekend patterns. The proposal to make Madeira Drive one-way requires creation of a remodelled junction at Duke’s Mound - now costed and researched for the Black Rock Project plans but not thought through for its implications for Valley Gardens.
Advocates for the scheme explained that there would be "winners and losers".  The winning identified as a 5% increase in cycling through the area - surely nowhere near what should be achievable with a better thought out proposal.  But the biggest 'losers' will be our city’s culture, arts and tourism economy.  Those who will suffer the seriously harmful effects of the city's poorly managed road infrastructure include the disabled and less abled.  Asthma sufferers, elderly and disabled patients hoping to access city centre surgeries, Kemptown and St James's Street residents and businesses are denied suitable loading access and left sitting on ‘the wrong side of town’.
The Valley Gardens Forum CIC is a huge group of central Brighton residents, public sector organisations, businesses, small & large who share concerns about the current plan. Our diverse and lively group is exactly the kind of sounding board that our local councillors should be engaging with from the earliest stages of revamping our critical infrastructure in the city. There is no hidden agenda or singular viewpoint - we all want the best for our city.
Valley Gardens Forum
The heart of our city...