'i360' West Pier Observation Tower and Heritage Centre
Our press release from 6 March 2014 gives an idea of where the project is at the moment, as well as some of the expected benefits of the i360. More details around Planning Applications and in-depth answers to common questions about the project can be found below.
Planning for the i360
Plans for a major development on land next to Brighton’s West Pier were submitted to the council on Monday 17 July 2006. Additional information was submitted on Friday 8 September 2006.
Planning permission and Listed Building Consent for both applications was granted at the Planning Applications Sub-Committee on 11 October 2006, subject to approval by the Government Office for the South East.
All of the plans, drawings and other supporting documents, including the additional information submitted, can be viewed on the council's website by entering the application numbers (BH2006/02369 and BH2006/02372) on the online planning register. These can also be viewed at the council's customer service centres at Hove Town Hall in Norton Road or Bartholomew House in Bartholomew Square, Brighton.
The scheme, known as the 'i360' was submitted by Marks Barfield, the creators of the extremely successful 'London Eye'. For more information on the i360 and the applicants you can visit their i360 website.
The officer's report [PDF 912K] is available to view in the Planning Applications Sub-Committee page in the 'Councillors and Committees' section. The council’s planning officer for these applications is Paul Vidler (01273) 292192.
Further documentation can also be found on the 6 March 2014 Policy & Resources Committee meeting page. For further information on non-planning related aspects of this project, please contact Major Projects & Regeneration on (01273) 292553 or e-mail email@example.com.
i360 project - your questions, our answers
Below are answers to some common questions we received. The West Pier Trust also have a some answers from their point of view, these can be seen on The West Pier website.
Q1: What is the funding proposal?
The council is proposing to use a government agency called the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) to borrow funds and lend on to the developer of the i360 at a commercial interest rate. The council then receives a higher rate of interest than it pays the PWLB, thereby earning nearly £1 million per year for the city in a time of cuts. The total project cost is £46.2 million, including interest. The developer Marks Barfield is investing £6 million and has met all costs to date including the costs of getting planning permission. The Coast To Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) have also made this a priority project and will invest £4 million. The loan would be repaid over 25 years but could potentially be repaid sooner if the attraction is very successful. If agreed, work would start this spring and the new attraction would open two years later in 2016.
Q2: Is council tax being used for this?
No. Council tax will not be used to fund the Brighton i360. No funds are being diverted from the council’s budget. Funding for the project comes from the Public works Loan Board, from the Local Enterprise Partnership (Coast to Capital) and from Marks Barfield. The combined PWLB and LEP loan is paid back from the income generated by the i360. The i360 is estimated to generate roughly three times the amount required each year to cover the loan repayments.
Q3: Why not borrow money from the PWLB to spend on other projects in the city like schools, housing, roads or seafront repairs?
The council does borrow to fund other capital schemes and currently has £132.8 million of loans from the PWLB. However before it can undertake new borrowing it has to demonstrate that the loan repayments are affordable. Unfortunately, new schools, roads and repairs do not generate new money to fund the repayments, so these types of projects can only go ahead if existing budgets are diverted by making efficiency savings or cuts to other services.
Q4: How usual is this funding method?
It is extremely common. The PWLB is one of the main ways councils get big projects started. The Board’s website details hundreds of local authorities ranging from parishes to unitary councils like Brighton & Hove borrowing billions of pounds for projects. These range from shopping centres (Aylesbury Vale) to bridges to new arenas (Leeds City Council) or leisure centres (Elmbridge).
Q5: Are you sure that the Brighton i360 can pay back the loan?
Yes, we have scrutinised the financial projections in great detail and so have our partners, the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership. We are confident that this is a safe investment for Brighton & Hove City Council to make. Careful oversight on this project has also been undertaken by experienced business people from the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, which has continued to back the project and are sufficiently impressed by the business case that they have increased their funding by 20% to £4 million.
Q6: Isn’t this taking a risk?
The i360 is projected to attract far more visitors than it needs to meet its loan repayments. It could continue to repay its loan even if visitor numbers turn out to be just half of those expected.
The council considers there is actually a greater risk in doing nothing. It would mean the derelict West Pier site languishing indefinitely and the arches beneath the west pier would remain unrepaired and in future potentially unsafe. Despite occasional reports, there are no other credible, funded proposals for the site.
Financially, if the city does nothing we forego over £1 million a year in interest payments, plus shared earnings and new business rates from the attraction and a wide range of other economic and financial benefits that will flow to local businesses. This money is desperately needed to invest in crumbling seafront infrastructure and to regenerate this part of the seafront. It is estimated the council needs to spend around £70 million-£100 million repairing seafront arches, structures and retaining walls along its 4km stretch. This is a massive sum, roughly equivalent to an entire year’s spending on adult social services. Brighton i360 will generate money that the council can use to help improve the seafront. There are big risks if we don’t do something to improve our seafront and council funds are simply not available to fund this level of investment alone.
Q7: Why such confidence the i360 will be a success?
Observation towers are enduringly popular; in fact the London Eye is the most visited paid-for attraction in the UK. Other attractions have performed well during the recession and the Brighton i360 will be delivered by the team who created the hugely successful London Eye.
We have a very well established tourist market in Brighton & Hove. Our visitor numbers are now over 10 million per year, making Brighton & Hove the most visited destination in the South East. We have 30% of the population of England living in our catchment area – within two hours travelling time. The Brighton i360 only has to attract a small percentage of this market to be a success.
We also have fast train links to London, which is now the world’s most popular tourist destination. Brighton & Hove is well placed to capture more of this market - if we have the right attractions. Brighton i360 will work with other attractions in the city to capture more of these London visitors.
Visitor attractions are doing well and attendance has been growing during the recession including the Royal Pavilion (which attracted 342,000 visitors in 2012, over a 20% increase since 2008).
Visitor numbers to Brighton & Hove are also going up. However, the i360 is predicted to help attract more of the higher spending visitors and those staying overnight. This will greatly assist our local businesses during the leaner winter months when business is very unpredictable and it will also help tourism business’s generally who rely upon higher spending visitors for their survival.
Q8: What happens if the loan is not repaid, or only repaid in part?
The council has worked with its legal advisers to ensure that the loan to Brighton i360 is structured in a commercial fashion and all the available checks and balances are in place to protect the council in this very unlikely eventuality. If this were to happen, the Local Enterprise Partnership and Brighton i360 would lose their money first. The council would then have the option to take over the attraction and/or find another operator. They would also have the option to sell the attraction. All the projections for Brighton i360 are based upon cautious assumptions to ensure that this situation is only a very unlikely eventuality.
Q9: Why can’t Marks Barfield find a private investor?
As regularly reported in the news businesses are having great difficulty getting investment, particularly new businesses. Banks are continuing to squeeze lending despite attempts by the Bank of England to boost finance to the sector. Projects that would have received funding before the economic downturn and banking crisis are no longer being supported.
New, innovative or iconic leisure projects are more difficult to fund than standard investments such as hotels, cinemas and restaurants. Investors prefer to see an established trading record which, in the case of the i360, is not available before construction. The London Eye for example have had similar funding difficulty in the past, however it was easily funded once operational.
It has often been the public sector who has supported innovative projects and funding, such as:
- wind farms and solar energy (through Feed in Tariffs)
- student accommodation (through nominations agreements)
- affordable housing (local authority head leases)
- Private Rented Sector Accommodation (DCLG repayment guarantees)
- infrastructure funding (DCLG LIF programme)
It is therefore common for the public sector to support new or innovative development where the private sector does not initially fund.
This project is about Brighton & Hove investing in Brighton & Hove. We have far more to gain from the project than a private investor would. For the council and the city, we place great value on regenerating the site, creating new jobs and all the local spin-off benefits including new business rates which come directly to the council at a time of cuts. These issues are not relevant to financiers located elsewhere and whose main concern is to maximise profits. The Public Works Loans Board and other government initiatives such as Funding for Lending exist because it is accepted that the market does not always deliver the infrastructure, investment and jobs where or when they are needed.
Q10: So if we take the initiative, what will the benefits be?
The Brighton i360 will provide a boost to our economy. It will generate more than 440 permanent jobs - 169 jobs at the attraction plus additional jobs from the spin off benefits to other businesses located in the city. Tourism is a major employer, employing nearly 20,000 people in Brighton & Hove. Brighton i360 is expected to attract over 700,000 visitors a year (800,000 in the opening year) from existing tourists to the city, and also to bring 165,000 to 305,000 new visitors to the city who will all spend money in local shops, restaurants, and at the other attractions. Joint ticketing will help ensure that visitors also visit other attractions and the i360 will provide an excellent vantage point up on high to see all the city has to offer. In total it is expected that the i360 will inject between £13 million and £25 million of additional revenue into the local economy annually.
The Brighton i360 will benefit our community by always giving a percentage of ticket sales to be used for community benefit. It will offer discounted entry to local residents. Every child in Brighton & Hove state schools will have the chance to visit the i360 for free. Free tickets will also be gifted each year to local charities and community groups working with disadvantaged groups.
The council will earn over £1 million a year in interest payments for 25 years for the council to invest in vital infrastructure repairs. It will also earn additional income from the under-used Regency Square car park and a 49% share of any additional business rates created by new businesses starting up, or existing businesses expanding as a result of the i360. This is during a time of public spending cuts so this additional revenue is a good way for local authorities to protect other budgets that are needed for urgent front line services.
In short, if we make this investment the city gains millions of pounds and hundreds of jobs. Failing to invest does not simply keep us as we are, instead it is likely to ensure the gradual decline of the seafront, taking future investment, visitors and jobs with it.
Starting the i360 sends a very strong signal that Brighton & Hove is open for business and, like the West Pier in its time, offering cutting-edge attractions for visitors.
Q11: What happens if we don’t do it?
If we don’t take the initiative the risk is that the i360 will not be built for a long time. We will retain a gaping derelict site in the middle of the seafront – our ‘shop window’ to the world. Any other city with such a site in its centre would be likely to do the same thing. We are facing the gradual crumbling of seafront infrastructure. For example, The Madeira Colonnade is now shut as it is considered structurally unsafe. We are already having to rebuild seafront arches at a cost of millions of pounds. The funding councils receive from government is now being cut so radically it is never likely to provide the required investment. This project can help us to reverse this decline and to earn money to reinvest in the process.
Despite reports there are no credible, funded alternative projects which could take the place of the Brighton i360. Remember the i360 already has planning permission and is ready to start construction this year. Brighton & Hove is a top tourist and conference destination but we can’t rest on our laurels. We must reinvest in our city if we want to stay ahead of our competitors.
Q12: Will this be like Portsmouth Spinnaker Tower?
While there are some similarities, there are also many differences between the Spinnaker example and Brighton i360. For example:
- Technically, the Spinnaker is a complex structure incorporating 14,750 tonnes of concrete and 1,200 tonnes of steel. By comparison the i360 is a simple spire using 850 tonnes of steel.
- The Spinnaker has a capacity of 350 people per hour. The i360 can manage 600 people per hour.
- Portsmouth Council effectively signed up to a project whose price was not fixed. The i360 contract is based on an agreed fixed price.
- Portsmouth City Council assumed risks arising from any design defects for the Spinnaker Tower which subsequently emerged. Any defects in the i360 are the responsibility of the i360 team, a team who have a demonstrable track record with the London Eye.
Nevertheless, the Spinnaker is profitable and is a success for Portsmouth. It helps to attract visitors and it adds to the appeal of the city. In its first five years it welcomed over two million visitors, generated around £3 million in profit revenue for Portsmouth City Council and more than £72 million for the Portsmouth economy.
Finally, Brighton & Hove is not Portsmouth. Brighton & Hove has approximately twice the volume of tourism that Portsmouth has (figures from Tourism South East). Brighton & Hove also has a bigger, more dynamic, vibrant, and wealthier leisure and business tourism economy. Brighton & Hove are closer to London, and has a larger catchment area. All the market analysis shows that there is every reason to expect the Brighton i360 will attract a larger number of visitors than Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower.