New England Quarter

Most conversations about Brighton’s New England Quarter end in agreement on the scheme’s shortcomings.

At around 21 acres, the site of the demolished Brighton Railway Works was the biggest redevelopment opportunity in town. The engineering works beside Brighton Station opened in 1842 and closed in 1958 after years of gradual decline. Redevelopment didn’t begin until 2004.

My first real memory of the area, from 2003, was of the comical protesters who tried to stop it from being rejuvenated. There was some sort of campaign banner alongside an entrance that featured small painted domes which, I was told, originally came from the Palace Pier.

I worked for Parsons Son & Basley, the firm that managed the site, and recall being offered the 7am-9am car park shift. I jumped at the chance as it meant that each day, for just two weeks, I was paid more than my daily wage to sit in a little booth and take cash (£4 per car, I think) from users of a makeshift car park on the derelict land. Staring at the drab Mocatta House to the south for all those hours made me realise that we could do so much better than that and the other large commercial buildings that already dominated the area. David Mocatta, the famous Victorian architect and namesake of that unremarkable modern yellow-brick behemoth, would have agreed.

I recently met up with architect Paul Zara who is a fan of elements of the scheme for a tour of the One Brighton block in the approximate centre of the development. I was actually blown away by what I saw because we went straight up to the roof of One Brighton’s roof and admired the panoramic views across Brighton. There are other good bits dotted around the New England Quarter such as the Greenway, the southern and western facades of Gladstone Row, and the interior of Bellerbys College but this is little consolation.

The New England Quarter suffers for its poor treatment of public areas. During the day, there is nowhere suitable to sit down for a chat. At night, it is so desolate that you wouldn’t want to. Fleet Street is too busy. Stroudley Road is too quiet. There is no sense of community. I do wonder if anybody there knows their neighbours.

Perhaps the hotel and residential accommodation that are soon to be built on Block J will be the key.