Council leader explains Madeira Terraces challenge

Brighton’s historic and much-loved Madeira Terraces structure has deteriorated so badly over the years it is now unsafe and needs to be completely rebuilt  – and the cost could be up to £30m.

The news comes today in a local newspaper article by council leader Warren Morgan.  Cllr Morgan has taken to print to explain to residents and businesses the scale of the challenge - and to underline the fact there is no quick fix.

The council stresses the intention is to restore and replace the structure – and is working on a bold and innovative solution. 

The unedited text of Councillor Morgan’s article is reproduced here…

Walking along Madeira Drive at the weekend I was again saddened to see the state it is in. I’ve known it all my life and value it as part of our rich heritage.

It has stood since Victorian times, over 100 years in a hostile seafront environment, with no significant investment. It’s easy with hindsight to say our predecessors should have done more, but its problems are made harder to deal with by a flawed structural design which is in itself very hard to maintain. A lack of expansion joints made cracking likely while its steel beams are hidden from view, encased in concrete and almost impossible to inspect or repair economically.  Costs are estimated to be in the region of £20m to £30m for a like-for-like replacement. We’ve now established the structure is in such a poor state it will need completely rebuilding, and in the main is unsafe.

Usually when you’re trying to attract millions from external funders – whether from the government, the Lottery, private businesses or crowdfunding - they always ask the same thing.  What’s the business case?  Where is the return on our investment? What do we get for that? 

At the moment they would get a beautiful replica of a Victorian promenade with very little practical use to modern Brighton.  This is why the things that get the Lottery grants and government funding all need to make a return you can put a figure on.  The i360 secured a government loan based on a promise it would make a profit and generate up to a million a year for the local economy.  The renewed seafront arches near the West Pier will stop the A259 collapsing so the Department for Transport paid for them.  The Royal Pavilion Estate is seeking Lottery funding on grounds of economic and cultural benefits to the city and our valuable tourism market.

Saying what “should” be done is easy and usually involves stating the obvious.  The “how” is much more difficult – otherwise you’d be reading the answer already. The problem with the Terraces, as they stand right now, is that there is no way of generating income from them.  That’s not to say it could never be done. As a listed structure any changes are problematic and would need the consent of English Heritage.  It will need some imagination, innovation and flexibility to make the kind of investment in the Terraces which might generate sufficient funds for the required work itself and future upkeep. 

We’re working on just such a proposal, and I’ll let you know about it as soon as I can.

Our ambitions are that the area east of the Palace Pier is restored to its former glory and is once again an attractive place for residents, visitors and events to use. I want to bring the buildings around the Aquarium back into use and looking good again. I believe there is no seaside town or city in the country where more seafront investment is already underway or planned.  Visitor numbers are growing year on year.  We’re spending millions rebuilding dozens of arches on the lower prom right now, providing new businesses and new life.  We have £9m from government to rebuild the Shelter Hall under the vitally important junction of West Street and Kings Road.  There’s the i360 underway.  And we’re progressing plans to redevelop the Brighton Centre/Kingswest site, build a new King Alfred leisure centre, a new swimming facility at Peter Pan’s, and a convention centre / arena at Black Rock.  This all takes time because councils no longer have the money to act alone and must work in complex partnerships with developers.

At a time of unprecedented financial challenges, with huge demands for housing, social care and more, we have a lot to do. However we owe it to those who built our city’s heritage, and future generations, to save what we value in our historic city and add to the story of Brighton and Hove for the future.