Archive for August, 2011

Brighton Marina to Friars Bay Sewage Tunnel

It is difficult to miss the myriad of building sites along the coast road between Brighton Marina and Telscombe. It is just as difficult to appreciate the extent of the work going on at each location.

Brighton & Hove’s network of sewers was developed in stages with the most important juncture being the construction in 1871-4 of an intercepting tunnel all of the way from Hove Street in the west to Portobello (near Telscombe Cliffs) in the east. The brick cylindrical sewer, which included sixty ventilation shafts, was designed by Sir John Hawkshaw.

The tunnel has lasted well. Indeed, it is still in use and will continue to be usable for the foreseeable future. Most impressive about it is that it relies only on gravity to move waste with just a drop of several feet over its 7km length. The problem is that the current treatment facility at Portobello is simply in place to remove the most basic waste material from the sewage that passes through. The rest ends up in the sea just 1.8km from the shore.

A number of sites were under consideration for years to determine the location of a huge new treatment works that will satisfy the requirements of (some quite sensible) European legislation. The new tunnel is to take over from the old one at Brighton Marina and then run alongside it until Telscombe, at which point it will branch off towards the huge new facility at Peacehaven. The cleaned wastewater will then be released 2.5km out from Friars Bay nearby.

New shafts have been dug along the route of the tunnel between which the different sections of tunnel are being constructed. There are several advantages to this method; one of which is that more than one portion of tunnel can be dug at the same time. I visited the site at Ovingdean, just west of St Dunstan’s, and dropped down the 8m wide, 16m deep, shaft to see the tunnel under construction below.

A crane picked up the cage into which our small group was crammed so that we could be raised up and then dropped into the pit below. The tunnel, which seems small compared to the shaft, runs in one side and then out the other.

This piece of the puzzle alone represents an extraordinary engineering feat yet when it is finished, all that will be visible is a small manhole cover.


Yew Tree House

Each of the remaining Victorian villas on Preston Park Avenue is tremendously charming and would make a dream home for most of us. Some have been demolished though and most converted.

In the case of No. 5, its garden is now home to a new building, an incredible eco dwelling called Yew Tree House. The timber-clad structure is the home of Mick and Sue Paskins whose drive to make the zero carbon dream into reality was totally evident upon my arrival when I was shown the myriad of delicacies being grown around the garden.

I couldn’t write everything down quickly enough but I noted strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, courgettes, green beans, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, carrots, leeks, potatoes, asparagus, thyme, rhubarb and lettuce during my tour of the axe-shaped garden. Had I been hungry, I probably wouldn’t have actually made it inside.

Immediately obvious about the building is the amount of wood that is proudly on display throughout. The cladding is coppiced sweet chestnut, a material of which I am a huge fan already; the exterior doors and windows are pine; the glulam beams that hold the building up are larch; and the spiral staircase is oak. Most fascinating of all is a tiny metal plaque at the back of the garden which indicates that the bench to which it is attached is made out of teak from HMS Thunderer, the famous dreadnought.

The house was designed by Bill Dunster from ZEDfactory, the architect behind the groundbreaking BedZED development in Hackbridge, London. It is no surprise, therefore, that Yew Tree House has a sedum roof, a 5,000l rainwater tank under the patio, fifteen photovoltaic cells on the roof and a wood burner in the lounge. Solar thermal panels heat the water so effectively that the boiler has been turned off since the end of March.

Alongside the obvious eco features, I was particularly impressed by the custom-made recycled glass work surface in the kitchen which has no joints, and also the sets of internal sash windows and shutters downstairs between the master bedroom and stairwell. They are all environmentally-friendly – and each looks great too.

Yew Tree House is part of a small but growing group of eco buildings around Brighton & Hove that I have fallen in love with which includes the Earthship and 15 Lloyd Close. Getting such projects through planning must be tough but I can certainly see the attraction.


Chapel Royal Clock Tower

Shoppers rarely look up so it may well be that many have missed it. Nevertheless, the Chapel Royal’s distinctive clock tower is a North Street landmark.

I recently wrote a column about the vast empty vaults beneath the Chapel Royal which led to a quick tour of the public areas above. The tower and two red-brick facades were added during the 1870s after the side of the original building was exposed following the demolition of the building to the south. It was in fact demolished so that could be widened. When Father David Biggs, priest at the Chapel Royal, suggested that I might wish to see the clock at the top of the tower. I obviously jumped at the chance.

The interior of the church includes a number of noteworthy features including a Willis organ; built in 1883 by the famous London firm of Henry Willis & Sons. There is a Willis organ nearby in the Dome but also in St Paul’s, Salisbury and Truro Cathedrals.

A solid set of steps leads from the ground floor to a gallery on the first floor which hugs the north, east and west walls of the building. The gallery offers a delightful view of the nave below including its geometric linoleum floor that was added during the 1990s. Although I would have been quite happy just to get climbing, the next stage of the ascent involved putting on a harness and it was at that point that I met up with Gary, the lucky chap who looks after the clock.

Two flights of steep wooden ladder-like steps lead up to the clock and along the way they pass the pendulum and driving weights. Various openings, including a number of windows and translucent clock faces, allow plenty of light into the tower. The clock itself is a work of art and is a joy to behold. Although the winding process is now electrified, the clock works pretty much as it did when it was first installed. A small change is that it no longer chimes all night. Another – and it is only aesthetic – is that the names of those who have worked on the clock (I presume) have been written on its wooden cabinet. The earliest date that Gary and I could see was 1898.

Funnily enough, a chalk note suggests that another Gary – Gary Overton – looked after that clock in 1960 – aged 17.


Falmer Stadium

It really is hard to say which of a handful of remotely available sites in Brighton & Hove would have been most suitable as the home of the Albion.

To recap, Brighton & Hove Albion left the Goldstone Ground in 1997 for Gillingham; left Gillingham for Withdean in 1999; and left Withdean for Falmer in 2011. It is amazing to think that Brighton & Hove City Council granted planning permission for Falmer back in 2002 and that it wasn’t until September 2007, after appeal deadlines had expired, that full permission was granted.

I must admit, I personally am not comfortable with development on the green spaces around Brighton & Hove but I do accept that the home of our local football team is very much a special case. Falmer probably was the right choice all things considered.

The capacity of Falmer Stadium is said to be 22,374 (I haven’t counted the seats) but there is room to increase this to something in the region of 35,000. It was designed by KSS Architects, a London-based firm that specialises in sports projects; especially large ones. I visited recently and was shown the north and west stands which contain offices and dining facilities respectively. The pitch is not visible from outside the huge structure and it is hard to describe just how uplifting it was to see it after emerging from the service areas behind. I can only imagine what it’ll be like when full to capacity on a match day.

As an aside, the whole area really has changed since I studied at Sussex. Small things are different such as the university entrance, the tunnel under the A27; and the bridge over the railway line. There are big differences too though. Massive new buildings have sprouted up around the Sussex campus, and on that of Brighton opposite. Indeed, the whole Lewes Road corridor is changing, seemingly for the better.

The first game has already taken place at Falmer Stadium which saw Brighton beating Eastbourne 2-0 in the season final of the Sussex Senior Cup. Hopefully, a similar result will be the outcome on 30th July when the Albion first team will be playing its first game there, against Tottenham.

My next visit though will be on Friday 2nd September for Macmillan Cancer’s 100th anniversary gala dinner which I am happy to plug. For tickets, please call Mrs Audrey Ebison on 01273 773909.