Controversial new road layout at Old Steine sparks 1,400-strong petition against scheme
More people signed a petition asking the council to pause work on a revamp of the Old Steine area of Brighton than took part in the consultation process.
The petition objecting to the proposed road layout favoured by the council – known as Valley Gardens phase three – was signed by more than 1,400 people.
The number of people taking part in the consultation carried out by Brighton and Hove City Council was 828.
James Noble, who lives in Queen’s Park, addressed councillors at Brighton Town Hall yesterday (March 28) on behalf of the Valley Gardens Forum, which represents businesses and residents who have concerns about the scheme.
Mr Noble told councillors that while people want to see improvements to the area, the current plan was not the way forward.
Work is already under way on the first and second stages of the Valley Gardens project – changing the layout of the roads and green spaces between St Peter’s Church and the Old Steine.
The third stage involves replacing the Palace Pier roundabout with a T-junction, closing the exit from Madeira Drive by the pier and bunching all five lanes of traffic on to the east side of Old Steine.
Mr Noble criticised the council’s consultation process, saying that 1,396 postcards were sent out but no one he knew had received one.
He said: “My local takeaway sends out more leaflets than that.
“Then there’s the name – Valley Gardens. I don’t know anyone else who has heard of that.”
He called for more open consultation, with residents and business owners able to contribute to the design which will “change the city forever”.
But he doubted whether this was possible because watching the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee meetings – where the decisions about the Valley Gardens project have been made – was like watching an episode of Jerry Springer, the American talk show.
Labour deputy leader Gill Mitchell said that public engagement would continue on the preferred design as the details were still being finalised.
She accused the Tories of small-town politics and playing to the gallery.
In her final council speech before she retires at the local elections in May, Councillor Mitchell said: “This scheme is firmly rooted in what people have told us is important to them – safer junctions, ease of movement, better bus access, more open space.
“And where there are downsides, we are working to improve them.
“We are engaging with groups and individuals as the scheme continues to the next stage.
“Councillor Pete West likened this process to Brexit. And it is true that at times I feel a bit like Theresa May.
“But I have confidence in VG3 (Valley Gardens phase three). The same cannot be said of Mrs May’s MV3 (the third ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit).”
Her last speech was applauded by many in the chamber at Brighton Town Hall.
Conservative councillor Lee Wares spoke in favour of the petition and against the council’s preferred design when the project was discussed by the council.
He said that future consultations would do nothing more than tweak the design, adding: “Our group wish to see the Old Steine regenerated and to use the money the Conservative government continues to pour into Brighton and Hove.
“We want to improve amenity, cycling and walking provision while keeping the city moving.
“Despite the frankly pathetic comments that we are trying to wreck this project, we seem to be the only group trying to stop others continuing to wreck out city.
“This project faces legal challenges, petitions, deputations, demonstrations, pages of bad press.
“Public questions are dodged with skilful dexterity to resemble a scene of bullet-dodging in The Matrix (the science fiction film).
“It seems that key documents and information that should have been disclosed … are only available because of freedom of information requests.
“Our event organisers, such as those involved in the Fringe, are pulling their hair out.
“Councillors from other groups condemn the present design yet they seem to have been silenced.
“Our city has seen a number of major projects in recent years. Lewes Road is no longer delivering. Queen’s Road by Brighton Station is failing. North Street is now the seventh most polluted street in the country outside of London.
“Albert Einstein was credited with saying the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
“And here we are doing the same thing again.”
Green councillor Leo Littman shared his frustrations about the project taking so long but backed sending it through to the next stage.
He said: “The project is a good one and deserves our support.
“It will provide excellent public realm and sustainable transport improvements … improving public health.”
Councillors noted a report on the project. Officials are working on detailed designs which should include further public consultation.