24 June 2014

£39m benefits from Brighton traffic plan

An environmental transformation of the ‘tangled’ transport route into central Brighton could be paid for from a regional fund designed to improve the economy.

The city council has already approved in principle the idea of improving the Valley Gardens, from The Level park to the seafront.  It could include planting hundreds of trees, improving green spaces, simplifying the complex traffic system and improving journeys for cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians.

The Coast To Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has a regional growth fund aimed at boosting business and has already agreed in principle to £8m funding for Valley Gardens - subject to the submission of this business case.  A new report to the next environment committee recommends councillors approve the business case and to submit it to the LEP for final agreement.  The money would be used on the section between Pavilion Parade and St Peter’s Church.  The council itself would put in around £1m over two years, from budgets which can only be spent on transport.

To unlock funding, schemes must demonstrate they can deliver significant financial benefits under strict government criteria. Ideally a scheme should provide financial benefits of at least double the value of funding.  The council says evaluation of the Valley Gardens proposals using these criteria suggest financial benefits of at least £39 million over the next twenty years. These would come from improved health, faster journeys, less pollution, better business links, improved retail frontages, new housing and offices, training and tourism. 

In addition to financial gains, other benefits would include improved ecology and new tree planting.

Simplified road layouts are key to the scheme.  Private vehicles would be allocated to a tree-lined ‘avenue’ on the east side of Valley Gardens, designed to soften traffic impact.  Buses and taxis would be placed on a Park Road, on the west side of the valley.  This would be easily crossed by pedestrians, meaning the green space would be better linked to the city.

The bus link will also allow private vehicle access to the west of the city and frontages at the west of Valley Gardens to service those premises.  But cars would not use it as a north-south route.

There would be a 700m segregated cycle lane running north-south.  A new water gardens would cope with flash flooding.  The area would become an arboretum enhancing the National Elm Collection, effectively providing an urban tree laboratory.

The outcome of any business case submission is expected to be known by the autumn.   Improvements would take place mid 2015 to early 2017. Traffic flow can be maintained through the area during works, so implementing the scheme is not expected to create significant disruption.

Chair of the environment committee Cllr Pete West said:  “Valley Gardens is a terrible tangle and presents a poor introduction to the city. It has long been an aspiration of the city to improve this and I’m so pleased we are now in a position to do just that.  This scheme could give us a lovely large new park, faster journeys and effectively earn the city nearly £40m in various benefits.

“This is precisely the sort of thing we should be doing under our new UN Biosphere status.  That’s all about improving the environment for people and nature simultaneously.  We have some very good traffic designers - Seven Dials has shown how much we can do to improve an area.”

The committee will consider making the final bid at its next meeting on July 1.