7 October 2015

i360 earnings set to fund seafront improvements

Revenue from Brighton’s i360 viewing tower could be immediately ploughed into radically improving landscaping of the surrounding seafront.

The council is proposing to borrow £1.4m from the government’s Public Works Loans Board initially to fund the plan.  The money would be repaid over 25 years from the council’s earnings from the i360. 

The local authority is due to earn around a million pounds a year from a share of ticket sales, interest from lending money to the developers and from business rates.

It would be the latest in a multi-million pound series of projects to radically improve the city’s seafront infrastructure and its allure to visitors.  These include the £46m i360 itself, a £5m project underway to restore 60 historic fishermen’s arches, plus £9m for rebuilding the adjoining circular Shelter Hall.  In the pipeline are the £540m Waterfront scheme to redevelop the Brighton Centre site with a new arena at Black Rock and creating a new £40m leisure centre and housing at Hove’s King Alfred site.

Two elements of the i360 landscaping project are proposed, covering the space currently used as building yards alongside the tower.  To the west of the i360 would be a flexible event space.  To the east, a piazza would focus on heritage and the West Pier.

The scheme would be fully accessible to disabled people – including a new lift from the upper to the lower prom.  There will be more seating and interpretive displays on the history of the West Pier and the i360’s development.

Other potential sources of money to repay the loan could come from letting the event space or rental income from refurbished arches.

Councillors will be asked to approve the idea in a report to the powerful policy and resources committee on October 15.

If approved work would start in February and take 20 weeks.  The aim is to get the new areas operational as soon as possible after the i360 opens – scheduled for July 2016.  

Committee chair and council leader Warren Morgan said:  “The i360 is now being built and has to succeed so that taxpayers get a return on their investment, namely the loan from the Public Works Loan Board approved before I was council leader which is paying for the project. I want income that the i360 should generate to be invested back into our seafront infrastructure, including projects like the regeneration of the Madeira Terraces. The council no longer has money in the bank to pay for infrastructure projects now, so public/private partnerships, Lottery grants and loans are the only way to bring significant investment in to our city and our seafront.”

The i360 tower is itself being largely funded by a PWLB loan of £36m.  PWLB funds are only available for projects linked to profit-making ventures which can repay the loan.

The council currently has over £100m of loans out from the PWLB.  The agency 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 to bridges, arenas and leisure centres.