by Robert Nemeth
The development of the King Alfred, the Marina, Black Rock, the i360, the Open Market, the Brighton Centre, and, one day, Churchill Square will define Brighton & Hove for generations to come. With such substantial projects in the pipeline, it is rather worrying that so many schoolboy mistakes are still being made by the City Council.
My interest in politics began with a love of local architecture. Trying to work out the original layout of a badly-divided-up house on the east side of Brunswick Square whilst a student led to my belief that bad behaviour is often rewarded in the property business. Whoever ruined the interior of that particular house should be dragged from their Costa del Sol retirement and made to put it right. Against the background of a rotten Embassy Court, I vowed to make a positive contribution locally. I joined the Regency Society and began writing about local history for Latest Homes!
I chose to get involved in politics and recall telephoning the two main parties. On top of having a strong belief in personal responsibility, I chose the Conservatives over Labour because I was impressed with Cllr Averil Older’s stance on historic buildings. I’m standing for Council in May for Regency Ward with my fellow campaigner, Mike Macfarlane. In our literature over the past year, we never moan about things that are unfixable and always try to be positive. Despite genuine efforts, it is honestly hard for us to reel off a list of recent local architectural triumphs.
The Jubilee Library has undoubtedly been a phenomenal success. It has just the right ingredients to work in the North Laine – not too high, relatively square and built using a locally-influenced material (black mathematical tiles). Unfortunately, the only other example that springs to mind is the transformation of Embassy Court from a wreck back into one of the city’s greatest assets. The Council, however, can’t take the credit for this. It is a great shame though that the list of disasters is considerably longer.
Spaceship Tesco on Church Road is an appalling neighbour to its Victorian elders. That horrible plastic building on North Street next to Boots should never have been given planning permission. All of those lovely houses in lower Hove should not have been knocked down to make characterless blocks of flats. That horrible new piece of Victorian pastiche by the Clock Tower shouldn’t have been built anywhere; let alone in that high profile location. The placing of that yellow, blue, and white curved monstrosity on the corner opposite the Royal Pavilion was even worse. There are so many more examples– the West Pier, the Bandstand, the Hippodrome, Tesco (surprise) by Palmeira Square – I could go on! It makes me so angry but one issue in particular really makes my blood boil.
Frank Gehry’s wobbly proposals for the King Alfred are truly disappointing and I’m amazed that there is any support for it at all. As demonstrated by the recent ICM poll, the scheme’s supporters are in favour principally because it is better than what we’ve got currently which is not exactly difficult. I say that we should not be giving up so easily; we have choices. The success of the Jubilee Library clearly demonstrates that there are capable local architects who may be able to do better. The Library’s architect, Nick Lomax, is currently working on an alternative scheme for the King Alfred in a more appropriate style that has a 50m pool instead of Gehry’s 25m, a ten pin bowling alley, a conference centre and no towers. This is seriously worth investigation.
I think more about the prospect of a new Brighton Centre than any other project though I would go considerably further than anything suggested so far by also combining Kingswest and Churchill Square into an entirely new scheme. In my dream plan, the Grand Hotel would buy some of the site to restore symmetry to itself and provide badly-needed conference accommodation. Every one of the many tall car parks in the area would be combined and put underground with entrances and exits on Cannon Place. Russell Road would no longer be needed and would be absorbed by my scheme. The current West Street car park entrance would be pedestrianised and turned into the ‘leisure entrance’ for the cinemas which would be built just behind it. Cannon Place though certainly wouldn’t be forgotten. It would receive a magnificent new frontage of appropriate small hotels, houses and independent shops in keeping with the remaining Regency buildings. Now there’s a vision!
Every new building should be outstanding. Buildings influence the way that people behave, especially in dense areas. I genuinely believe this. Every single architectural failure to date has sent out a message to developers that it is acceptable to ride roughshod over residents’ wishes. Every bad application that we beat wastes developers’ time and money which should ultimately lead to good applications being submitted.
As Researcher to the Shadow Minister for Housing & Planning, a local historian, a property investor and a downright stubborn campaigner, I have the tools at my disposal to become a real architectural champion for the City of Brighton & Hove. By May, Mike and I will have done plenty to convince the residents of Regency Ward that we’re up to the job.