27 March 2015

Improved water features for Valley Gardens plan

Water features would play a key role in plans to enhance Valley Gardens in central Brighton.

A new public square with integrated fountains to the south of St Peter’s church would aim to give an enhanced setting to the building, which some view as the city’s unofficial ‘cathedral’.

The council intends to add drinking fountains to the area and is looking at restoring the obelisk drinking fountain outside the church.

A brook or ‘rill’ would run through the centre of the green spaces, hinting at the Wellesbourne, a seasonal river that once ran through the area. 

A sustainable urban drainage system (SUDS) would have features designed to collect and slowly release rainwater, reducing flash flooding associated with modern weather patterns.  These increasingly see periods of drought as well as torrential downpours.

The rill and SUDs system would help support increased biodiversity in the centre of the city.

The council says the features would be much more suited to the setting than the current Mazda fountain. The fountain’s presence in the city is something of an historical accident.  It was built by Thompson-Houston Ltd, a subsidiary of an American electricity company, for the British Empire Exhibition, 1924, staged around Wembley Stadium. 

It was moved to Brighton in 1930 when a new location was required.  It costs £8,000-£9,000 a year to run – roughly twice the cost of a modern replacement.  When working, it typically sprays water across a wide area because it was originally designed to sit in an ornamental lake.

The fountain was also originally to be illuminated by the General Electrics-branded Mazda light bulbs which give the fountain its name. Restoring lighting to the fountain is estimated to cost up to £30,000, and would add to maintenance and running costs.

Lead councillor for transport Ian Davey said:  “We could have a much more reliable, useful, attractive and ecologically-sound set of water features than the Mazda fountain currently offers.  It is possible to have gardens which can cope with the flash flooding we get these days with planting that would be more drought resistant.”

The Valley Gardens project aims to improve the quality of public space in the city centre and improve travel by bus, bike, taxi and walking – without increasing car journey times.  Main changes would see cars and general traffic flowing in both directions on the east side, with buses, taxis and some local traffic in a quieter road on the west.  It would be largely funded with an £8m government grant.

Councillors last week gave the go-ahead for the scheme to progress to technical design stage. Subject to further approvals, construction work could start in September.


Background

A document on the council’s website, Rebuilding Valley Gardens, says the following on drainage, planting and water…

Water features

Historically Valley Gardens was undeveloped due to a winterbourne (temporary winter) stream that ran through the area before terminating at Pool Valley.

The proposal reconnects to this historic aspect of the area’s character by introducing a variety of water and related features.

The square outside St Peters will feature programmable fountains. A rill (small stream) follows paths through Victoria Gardens, bringing visual and biodiversity benefits.

Similar benefits are achieved by a series of rain gardens and other SUD (Sustainable Urban Drainage) systems which also help protect the area from flash flooding events by storing water that the sewer system can’t cope with during periods of heavy rainfall. SUD features can be as simple as depressions in the ground level (rain gardens) or more formal structures along footways (such as street swales), planted with low maintenance plant species that can survive in wet or dry conditions. These may include Red Bistort, Goat’s Beard and Garden Speedwell.

The SUD features hold excess rainfall until it has time to soak into the ground. We are also planning to provide drinking fountains. One aspect likely to divide opinion is removal of the Mazda fountain. We feel this is justified given the space the feature takes up, its sporadic operation, relatively high maintenance costs and the fact it was never designed for Victoria Gardens (the fountain was designed for the 1924 British Exhibition at Wembley and was originally illuminated by multi-coloured bulbs). We will look for ways to re-use the fountain over coming months.

Business case

The Local Transport Board, part of the Coast To Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), confirmed on February 18 that £8m of Local Growth Fund money would be available for the project.

It aims to improve walking, cycling and public transport between St Peter’s Church and the Royal Pavilion, with no increase in car journey times.

The Local Transport Board’s (LTB) decision was based on a written business case presented by the city council. This details around £40m worth of benefits over 20 years, bringing returns valued at four times the original investment. These would come from improved health, faster journeys, less pollution, better business links, improved retail frontages, new housing and offices, training and tourism.