Much of the success of Brighton and Hove over the last few years can be attributed to its ever increasing popularity as a tourist destination, both for UK residents and foreign visitors alike.
Every year over 8.5 million people visit our city contributing an estimated £780 million to the local economy. Make no mistake – tourism is big business for Brighton and Hove.
I was therefore, very disappointed to learn last week that the Labour Administration on the council has decided, in its wisdom, to increase visitor charges at the Royal Pavilion by 10 per cent next year. The rationale given for the rise is that the council needs to ‘ensure that the Royal Pavilion and Museums achieve admission income targets’ in the face of falling visitor numbers to the attractions.
Well, perhaps the Labour leadership need to go back to basic economics! They clearly haven’t learnt the lessons from the introduction of a £5 charge for non-resident visitors to Brighton Museum 18 months ago which resulted in a halving of visitor numbers. I would be very surprised if the increases at the Royal Pavilion don’t have the same effect and visitor numbers drop still further.
We are always told that the reason city centre parking charges need to be so high is to act as a form of ‘rationing’ of demand. Whenever we have proposed reducing parking charges, we are lectured about how it will just fuel increased demand and make congestion even worse. Yet the same logic apparently doesn’t apply to other charges such as for the Royal Pavilion and Museum.
I gather that a task group is being set up by the Administration to try and find ways of increasing the number of visitors to the Museum. I would like to make a suggestion to the task group – try reducing the charges. You might find that visitor numbers increase, enabling you to meet your income targets.
On a more positive note, I was delighted to see that work has now started on restoring one of the city’s most iconic tourist attractions, the Volks Railway, thanks to a £1.65 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The restoration will provide a purpose-built heritage visitor centre at the Aquarium station to tell the story of Magnus Volk; it will create a conservation workshop to protect the historic carriages, enable restoration work to be viewed, and provide training for volunteers to develop their skills; and finally it will restore and bring back to use three of the original carriages which will increase capacity on the railway
Diggers started dismantling the Aquarium Station and car sheds last month, and both will have their foundations completely dug out in preparation for the new buildings.
The Volks Railway is very close to my heart as it is to so many of the volunteers and supporters who make such an important contribution to maintaining the railway. It is sad to see the old buildings go, particularly the remains of Magnus Volk’s station on the north side of the car sheds. However, they have been on their last legs for a number of years and this lottery money provides the perfect opportunity to give the railway a new lease of life and a boost for this important part of Brighton and Hove seafront.
Geoffrey Theobald is the leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton & Hove City Council.