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Project Brighton: Solutions to Madeira Terraces’ problems from Nick Mosley, Managing Director of Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival
The long-neglected Madeira Terraces continue to make headlines, reflective of decades of under investment and lack of vision for this much celebrated jewel in the crown of our seafront – or historical white elephant, depending how you look at it. After years of stalling whilst the council mulled over a solution and attempted to achieve heritage funding, it’s now out there for businesses to find a solution.
Successive administrations have quietly brushed the issue of seafront maintenance into the long grass, so it’s only now when we hit crisis point that the beads of sweat are forming. Councillor Morgan’s plea for ideas and private investment really does suggest the Madeira Terraces are sat at the proverbial last chance saloon. A number of concepts have been thrown into the mix by businesses on Madeira Drive and architects in the city. Some are pie-in-the-sky fantasies, whilst others warrant some serious consideration.
In terms of maintaining the actual structure, it would be foolhardy to think that the integrity of the split tier promenade will be maintained in anything other than a token manner with any future development. It no longer fulfils a social purpose, other than for skateboarders and street drinkers to congregate.
The most obvious way for the Madeira Terraces space to generate income is with a major new housing development – a prime spot on Brighton beach would be worth a fortune. Yes, these properties would be gentrified (I’m sure many would be second homes) but what they will generate is money, and that’s exactly what Madeira Drive needs right now.
Retail and leisure experiences are absolutely key. The important thing is to create a complementary offering to that which already exists within the city, rather than a competing offering that would shift consumer footfall from existing areas. And it would have to be a balance of multiples and independents; the former no doubt subsidising to some degree the latter.
Existing traders on Madeira Drive suggest a strong creative offering in terms of artist’s studios. As the current ‘Artist Quarter’ between the piers is now somewhat diluted, this sounds like a positive way to create footfall, if not generating great amounts of rental income.
As someone who has worked in the tourism and food and drink sectors in the city for well over a decade, I can see lots of opportunity for non-competitive commercial activity. I currently know of numerous brewers and distillers looking to get property in the city for shared production and retail facilities. The English wine industry certainly deserves a home to showcase both its provenance and production, so Brighton sitting pretty much in the middle of it all would be an obvious choice for a national visitor centre.
There is a distinct lack of quality outdoor event space in the city. New Road is now too full of cafés and bars to accommodate events; Jubilee Square is dark, dismal and over-priced. So as Madeira Drive is already home to major events that generate revenue for both the city council and businesses then perhaps a flexible, multi-purpose indoor-outdoor event and expo space could be an option to support both local events and festivals whilst also allowing a revenue stream for in-bound events.
Of course, the most obvious use for the upper promenade of the Madeira Terraces would be going back to the monorail scheme that has been mooted umpteen times in the past. Though now as we look to the future and the development of Black Rock into a new conference and arena space, perhaps the reappropriation of the structure for rapid transit could be the perfect solution. I don’t think anyone has actually convincingly modelled how Brighton’s existing transport infrastructure would be anywhere close to being able to move thousands of people to Brighton station or park and ride facilities outside of the city.
Unfortunately, I suspect that this saga is far from over, but I guess we should all take heed that we don’t want another West Pier on our hands.