Brighton event organisers ‘left in the dark’ over Valley Gardens works

Performers In Pavilion Gardens During Fringe City At Brighton Fringe
Performers In Pavilion Gardens During Fringe City At Brighton Fringe

Representatives of event organisers and businesses in central Brighton were outraged when told that they had been consulted about changes to the layout of the Valley Gardens area.

One of them told councillors that they were being kept in the dark with less than two months before the Brighton Festival and Fringe get under way.

Uncertainty and lack of consultation were hampering their efforts to put on some of Brighton’s best-known events and set up key temporary venues.

Their concerns prompted Conservative and Green councillors to call for regular updates on the Valley Gardens revamp.

The project involves changing the road layout from St Peter’s Church to the Palace Pier, with aims that include creating a new park.

The scheme is causing controversy as the work currently under way and further planned changes to the layout of the area threaten the future of some events.

Two lobby groups have formed to fight for changes to the project, with the Valley Gardens Forum representing businesses and residents in the Old Steine area and the Brighton Events Group speaking for the likes of Pride.

Ian Baird, of Whisky Bravo Productions, addressed members of Brighton and Hove City Council on behalf of the Brighton Events Group on Tuesday (March 19).

Brighton Fringe, Brighton Spiegeltent, Pride Pleasure Gardens and the Japan Festival are among its members.

He said that organisers are struggling because of the current works around St Peter’s Church.

This year The Warren, a Brighton Fringe venue, has moved from the grounds of St Peter’s Church to Victoria Gardens while the Ladyboys of Bangkok has moved from the gardens to Hove Lawns.

In a presentation to the council’s environment, transport and sustainability committee at Hove Town Hall, Mr Baird said that events take months to organise yet cultural leaders feel left in the dark.

He said: “As things stand, organisers have no reliable knowledge of their future which is of grave concern to them and could be devastating for not just them, their contractors, suppliers, staff and performers but for the city’s entire cultural offering and status as a world-class destination.

“In previous committees concern has been expressed regarding the preservation of – and provision for – space and infrastructure to accommodate outdoor events in Valley Gardens such as the Brighton Fringe sites, Pride Pleasure Gardens and others.

“The events sector was a significant part of the business case to the LEP (local enterprise partnership) and assurances have been given by the administration that the Valley Gardens scheme will be designed to accommodate outdoor events.

“However, there is concern that event organisers are not being suitably consulted for input and feedback on proposed or amended designs as the project is developed.”

Councillors heard that as recently as last Tuesday (March 12) the Brighton Fringe was waiting or information about arrangements for this year’s event.

Event organisers asked for safe HGV access, hardstanding areas, three phase power, mains water supply, access to waste water, removable street furniture and landscaping to allow for the flexible use of green space along the valley.

Mr Baird added: “Events of this scale take many months in the planning and organisers have an unreasonable level of uncertainty over events that start in little over seven weeks’ time – and virtually no idea where they will stand in 2020 and beyond.”

There was outrage from the public gallery when Councillor Gill Mitchell, who chairs the council’s environment, transport and sustainability committee, said: “All the relevant people have been spoken to and worked with and given the information as far as we have been able to give it.”

The council’s executive director for the economy, environment and culture Nick Hibberd told the committee that he had been talking with Brighton Fringe chief executive Julian Caddy and was committed to supporting the Fringe and making the area safe.

Green councillor Pete West said: “Do not keep it quiet. We need to see what is going on.”

Conservative councillor Lee Wares said: “I hear you say people are involved. Our public gallery is packed with people who are stakeholders.

“When you say they are involved they are screaming at us they are not. It is not working.”

Councillors Wares and West jointly asked for a report to come back to the next committee with updates as required as the project progresses.