Council agrees to defer i360 repayments

Brighton's i360
Brighton's i360

Councillors have voted to give Brighton’s i360 financial breathing space by deferring £570,000 of loan repayments until the end of the year.

Lower than forecast visitor numbers linked with poor weather have been blamed for the below-par performance of the attraction, which opened on the seafront in summer 2016.

Back in 2014 Brighton and Hove City Council agreed to broker a £36.2 million loan for the i360 from the Public Works Loan Board, with repayments due each year.

At a meeting yesterday, the council’s Policy, Resources and Growth Committee agreed to defer until December the £570,000 of the £1,492,304 due by Saturday (30 June).

Green councillors put forward a recommendation to ensure councillors are told in advance if the attraction is likely to default on the £922,296 due in December.

During discussions Green group spokesman Phélim Mac Cafferty raised concerns about using £50,000 of public money to employ a specialist adviser with experience working with visitor attractions.

He said: “We are using public money for commercial enterprise working with the i360 board.

“We would then be at a risk of setting a precedent for a similar request from other companies.”

But he was told that it was a unique situation and employing someone in this way would be normal for a commercial lender.

The Greens asked whether the cost of additional advisers would be met with interest by the i360.

Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “We have to get this right.

“I am supporting this for the city and for the benefit of everyone.

“There has been fantastic regeneration of that bit of the seafront.”

Meanwhile Conservative amendments included Brighton and Hove City Council receiving 25 per cent of any ticket sales over a certain amount – yet to be agreed.

The group also wanted more progress reports, with financial details, and proper notice of any change in circumstances.

Conservative group leader Tony Janio called for more openness with councillors saying that members of the committee were frustrated at knowing nothing about the need to defer the attraction’s loan until five weeks ago.

He said: “The public need to know we are not forgetting any of the debt.

“What we are doing is restructuring the debt profile and that goes on in many businesses throughout the UK and the City of London.”

Councillor Janio pointed out that the i360 had drawn move visitors towards Hove and benefited businesses in the area.

Ahead of the final vote after the Green and Conservative amendments were approved, the Labour council leader Daniel Yates urged councillors not to get too caught up with visitor numbers.

He said: “What we need to be obsessed about is servicing this debt and dealing with getting back the money borrowed from the public purse.”

When it came to finances, the i360 board explained how their focus was initially on savings and is now on increasing revenue.

Efforts are being made by the i360 team to attract more visitors whatever the weather.

Councillors were critical at what seemed to be little thought given to the prospect of bad weather.

Founding director Julia Barfield told councillors how work is under way to attract stag and hen parties as well as people attending conferences who are there whatever the weather.

A kids-go-free promotion in February boosted visitor numbers and increased revenue.

‘Sky dining’ in March was such a success, with the next two events are already sold out.

Promotional events with rail company Thameslink and graduation packages with the city’s universities are also planned.