An artist’s impression of the Valley Gardens scheme
Every southbound car entering Brighton’s central avenue will be squeezed into a single lane of traffic this summer. Two years of roadworks to redesign traffic flow and pedestrian access around Valley Gardens will begin as early as June.
The decision to start digging up one of the busiest roads in the city during the tourist season was criticised by tourism experts, traders, residents’ groups, public transport pressure groups, taxi companies and unions. Critics have predicted “chaos” and “gridlock” and raised the spectre of tailbacks radiating far beyond the centre of the city. The council said disruption would be mitigated wherever possible.
Meanwhile the roadworks surrounding the Shelter Hall development at the foot of West Street will not finish this summer as planned but will continue until at least next autumn. That development is now projected to cost twice its original £10 million budget, and the council is working on ways to come up with extra money from its own tight resources as well as from central Government.
On Tuesday 6th February, a meeting of the Greater Brighton Economic Board confirmed work on the £11 million Valley Gardens scheme would begin in June, although yesterday a Brighton and Hove City Council spokeswoman said it “hoped” to start work on the highway “towards the end of summer”.
The first phase of the scheme will include closure of one of the two southbound lanes of traffic on the eastern side of Victoria Gardens from near St Peter’s Church. The Valley Gardens development seeks to open up the several, underused green spaces in the centre of the city from St Peter’s Church down to Old Steine.
At present the route is a one way system with two lanes running north, and two south. Once the redevelopment is complete, private vehicles will be restricted to the east of the gardens, with one lane northbound and one lane southbound. On the west, a much quieter road will carry just buses and taxis, northbound and southbound. Extra crossings, extra cycle lanes, and extensive planting and landscaping will make the area easier to access and enjoy on foot.
Yesterday the council said work and diversions would be well publicised and the main route would only occasionally be subject to complete closure.
Anne Ackord, who runs the Palace Pier and speaks for the Brighton and Hove Tourism Alliance, said: “Summer is never the best time to start any disruption. We need to get people in to the city, and we know parking is a problem as it is, so you don’t want anything to get in the way of the best possible summer. At the pier, we’re doing refurbishment work and maintenance now, because it’s winter and it’s quiet. We wouldn’t schedule anything to start later than Easter, because then you damage business.”
Adam Chinnery, chairman of the Seafront Traders Association, said: “It seems very odd, when we get massive domestic tourism that comes right down that road in the summer. And we don’t get nearly as much during the winter. It would seem a lot better to do this kind of project in the winter.”
Steve Percy, chairman of the People’s Parking Protest, said: “It’s going to be an absolute nightmare. I fail to see why Valley Gardens is going to start at the beginning of the tourist season when in fact it should have been started at the end of the season. That’s just common sense.”
Peter Elvidge, secretary of Brighton Area Buswatch, said: “It’s absolutely not the right time of year. “It’s going to be chaos I imagine. The Valley Gardens scheme is going to narrow the road down to a single lane through the roadworks, which will cause huge traffic jams and that will spread throughout the city.”
John Streeter, of Streamline Taxis, said: “I can see this scheme backfiring big time. There’s going to be major tailbacks coming into the city. Summer weekends are very busy and this will have a major impact.”
GMB union branch secretary Mark Turner said: “That’s not very clever timing really is it? That’s the beginning of the summer season, it’s the most important for the city and we’re going to cause major disruption to traffic. It’ll be bad for local businesses – we’ll be saying ‘come to Brighton and be gridlocked’.”
Not everyone was so negative. Theatre Royal manager John Baldock said: “Whenever you did it it’s going to upset somebody. Anything that can improve the city is a good thing, it’s never going to be painless.”
The scheme – originally a Green idea – has cross-party support so opposition politicians have focused on whether the Labour administration will make it happen efficiently.
Green Party spokesman Councillor Pete West said: “My concern is the Labour administration can’t deliver this competently – their project management is not good.
“Once they’ve started digging up, they need to complete within the shortest timeframe to minimise disruption.”
Conservative Party spokesman Councillor Lee Wares said: “It is essential the Labour administration carefully co-ordinate the construction phases to avoid interrupting all the events our city holds. With Shelter Hall now over-running by a year it is crucial that Labour don’t take their eye off the ball because if they do, it will be a disaster for the city.”
Labour Councillor Alan Robins, the administration’s lead member for tourism, said: “I knew it was going to start, I didn’t know the start date.”
Later in a council statement he said: “Brighton and Hove attracts up to 11 million visitors a year and our marketing activity already encourages visitors to come by train or use other forms of public transport, where possible, as we know that car travel is a major contributor to congestion and poor air quality.”
The Valley Gardens scheme is expected to take around two years.