World Heritage bid to help save seafront

From The Argus

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Conservation leaders are preparing a bid for UNESCO World Heritage Status for Brighton and Hove seafront which would put the site in the same league as the Pyramids and Stonehenge.

If successful, the status could solve the problem of our crumbling seafront with access to European Union funds and the promise of extra promotion and prestige.

Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission is drawing up the bid for Brighton and Hove’s promenade, stretching from Arundel Terrace to Hove Lawns.

The organisation, which is an umbrella group for numerous heritage and community associations across the city, has a strong record of campaigning.

However, Brighton and Hove City Council has refused to back the bid, deeming it a “very expensive process” and warning it could “hamper” plans they have for the area.

While the group has said it would like the council’s backing, it said last night it was determined to go ahead with the bid regardless.

If successful, the status will cover the Madeira Terraces, the Montpelier and Clifton Hill area, the Pavilion Gardens, the seafront arches and the city’s beach.

The status would not only mean extra protection for the site but also advice from the World Heritage Committee and access to money from the World Heritage Fund.

Supporters also claim the status would lead to extra exposure and added prestige.

Roger Amerena, founder of Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission, called on the council to get behind the bid, describing it as key to securing the promenade for the future generations.

He said it would present Brighton and Hove as the “home of the seaside” and would hopefully lead to additional funding to help with repairs.

The news comes as the Victorian Society yesterday listed the 2,837ft long terrace, which is said to be the longest continuous cast iron structure in the country, as one of the country’s top 10 most endangered buildings.

The Argus revealed more than £100 million is needed to carry out repairs to the deteriorating historic seafront, with £30 million needed to renovate the Madeira Terraces.

The terraces on the east side of the Palace Pier have become so badly corroded that businesses have been forced to move and the ironwork has been deemed at risk of “progressive collapse”.

The council has blamed a century of “no significant investment” and “a hostile seafront environment” for the state of the seafront.

On the west side of the pier, investment is already being brought in to help support the neglected area, with £9 million in Government funding being earmarked to restore the Shelter Hall structure at the bottom of West Street.

BEING GRANTED WORLD HERITAGE STATUS MAY SAVE OUR ARCHES

ONCE Victorian ladies and gentleman dressed to the nines strutted along the promenade enjoying the sunshine and the sea air.

But now the area often feels more hard hat than top hat.

The once proud Madeira Terraces are rusting away, surrounded by wire fencing while the seafront arches are in dire need of restoration.

The question “What now?” is the biggest challenge facing the city.

But with a price tag of more than £100 million attached to the answer, there has been is little in the way of progress.

The council certainly has no money, nor does the Government.

But those at the Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission are not going to stand by and let the seafront crumble.

They are preparing an audacious bid for UNESCO World Heritage Status which would see the seafront on the same footing as Machu Picchu, The Acropolis and Sydney Opera House.

World Heritage Status was born in the 1950s in a bid to protect the most important cultural, natural and historic sites in the world. Campaigners argue heritage status for the seafront would give the city official and international recognition as “home of the seaside”.

Through the UNESCO World Heritage Status programme, Liverpool has already been named a maritime mercantile city. And if they can do so, so can we.

It is hoped the status will open doors to funding, in particular money from the European Union which would not otherwise be available.

This could help secure the millions of pounds needed for repairs.

Helmut Lusser, chairman of the Hove Civic Society, one of the organisations under the wing of the Heritage Commission, said: “We are trying to get this bid for the Regency and Victorian seafront and its conservation areas.

“The seafront is the key to the city; everyone recognises it is critical we keep it and we need to get any funding we can find.”

But it is not going to be easy.

To gain World Heritage Status could take up to five years after a stringent selection process which goes through a five-step process.

The seafront must make a tentative list selected by the Government before nomination files are prepared. A nominated property is then independently evaluated by two advisory bodies mandated by the World Heritage Convention.

Once a site has been nominated and evaluated, it is then down to World Heritage Committee and it must then meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria.

The application is also potential costly, with bids costing tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The council has cited costs as one of the reasons it is not going to back the plans.

Roger Amerena, founder of Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission, urged the council to get onboard.

He said: “The proposal would be for Brighton and Hove to be the home of seaside, the best seafront in the United Kingdom.

“Hopefully out of that would be grant aid funding hopefully from UNESCO – that funding will help with the repairs and partial reinstatement of the terraces.”

Despite the council ruling out its involvement, individual councillors have backed the plans.

Tom Druitt, Green spokesman on economic development and culture, said: “The idea of the seafront becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site is very exciting.

“It would perfectly complement our UNESCO Biosphere status, awarded just last year, which celebrates our natural environment and includes the seafront coastline.

“It would also help the city draw in the much-needed funds to continue the seafront restoration that is so sorely needed.”

However, councillor Geoffrey Theobald, leader of the city’s Conservative group, urged caution over the bid due to possible restrictions on planning and business use.

He said: “There are current issues in Liverpool at this very moment in which its historic area could be at risk of losing its World Heritage status due to an upcoming planning project. Therefore this needs to be taken into account.”

The glory days of Brighton and Hove’s seafront were during Victorian times with the original three piers standing proudly in close proximity.

The town became a resort heralded by the arrival of the London to Brighton railway and the promenade became a place to be seen.

Yesterday the Brighton and Hove City Council said they had “no intention of bidding for World Heritage Status” but the Heritage Commission said they would move forward with the bid regardless.

However, council leader Warren Morgan said: “Bidding for World Heritage Status is a very expensive process and would bring little benefit to our city, which is already designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Site.

“It could severely hamper the plans that are already well progressed for new homes, new facilities and restored heritage sites that are already in the pipeline.”

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