Following on from a recent week of work in the European Parliament, I couldn´t resist comparing Brussels to my beloved Brighton & Hove. Europe´s capital, with a population of around one million, should be leading the way in terms of architecture and economic efficiency so it´s unfair to compare, isn´t it?
Grand Place is Brussels’ best feature and is a truly spectacular open square surrounded by the buildings of the ancient guilds, the imposing Hotel de Ville and a bar with a real fully-grown stuffed horse! There are many excellent buildings and monuments, including royal palaces, and a statue of our Field Marshall Montgomery who liberated Brussels during the war. However, general grubbiness (including the Police smoking on duty) and a lack of greenery don’t do the city any favours whatsoever.
Transport, a particular area of contention in Brighton, is at least under control in Brussels. At busy junctions, main roads vanish underground and reappear as part of a vast tunnel network. The Metro is decent but complicated at first, as escalators only start moving when approached and the trains emerge from square, not round, openings. 1980s British pop songs playing from the stations´ speakers only add to the confusion! Brighton´s clean and frequent busses are, however, much better than Brussels´ bendy equivalents.
The built-up Quartier Européen, in which the European Commission, Council and Parliament are based, convinced me that Brighton is in need of a proper central business district. The area around Preston Park Station could be seriously developed or, alternatively, Eastern Road to the east of American Express. Large buildings are almost impossible to remove once in place, but, if properly situated, could be massively helpful to our local economy. Despite this, we should only accept new towers in Brighton on condition that the bad ones, such as Chartwell Court, Sussex Heights and Theobald House, are completely flattened first.
The funniest moment of my trip was discovering that an English journalist, Per, who pretends to be Swedish, actually lives in the European Parliament. Amazingly, he lives on the free food and champagne from the many receptions and sleeps in various nooks and crannies rent-free despite losing his job and pass ages ago. I certainly had a great time in Brussels with my hosts, Andrew and Rebecca. The European Parliament wasn´t the gravy train that I was expecting though – ´train de champagne´ would be a more fitting description!