Mediation over controversial Brighton road revamp at Valley Gardens

What Old Steine will look like if phase 3 of Valley Gardens is approved SUS-181110-142656001
What Old Steine will look like if phase 3 of Valley Gardens is approved SUS-181110-142656001

A controversial Brighton road scheme is to be discussed at a mediation session next week, councillors were told this week (June 25).

The meeting next Tuesday (July 2) follows months of vocal opposition to the detail of the scheme, known as Valley Gardens phase 3.

The Valley Gardens project involves redesigning the area from St Peter’s Church to the seafront, with work on phase 1 and 2 already under way.

Phase 3 – from Edward Street to the Palace Pier – has proved particularly contentious with businesses, trade associations and residents complaining that they were not properly consulted.

Many are angry that a traffic light junction is planned to replace the Aquarium roundabout which, they say, will create more traffic jams, increase pollution and reduce road safety.

The western end of Madeira Drive is due to become one-way so that vehicles can enter but have to leave via Duke’s Mound.

And the taxi trade, among others, has concerns about the junction changes at Castle Square – between North Street and Old Steine.

The Valley Gardens Forum, which represents businesses and residents, supports the scheme in principle and welcomed the opportunity to go to mediation with Brighton and Hove City Council.

But it is also concerned about pollution and road safety arising from the new road layout which includes a “five-lane superhighway” on the east side of Old Steine.

The project was the subject of more than a dozen questions, petitions and other contributions from councillors, businesses and the public at a council committee meeting this afternoon.

The exchanges dominated the opening two and a half hours of the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee meeting at Hove Town Hall.

Martin Christie, who works for a Brighton printing business, said: “The council’s own technical report commissioned from Mott Macdonald showed that retaining a roundabout would actually prevent 328 accidents as compared with the current proposed junction.

“Does the chair agree that a roundabout is safer, cheaper and – by allowing the most flexible throughput of traffic – also the most environmentally friendly solution for the Aquarium junction.”

Labour councillor Anne Pissaridou, the new chair of the committee, said: “Improving road safety is one of the core objectives.”

Councillor Pissaridou said that the figures cited related to the whole project area from Edward Street to the seafront – not just the Aquarium roundabout.

She said that the roundabout allowed traffic to flow freely “but it’s a real barrier for people to reach our wonderful seafront attractions and beach”.

She added: “We also want the city to become carbon neutral. This means looking at every transport option.”

The traffic lights would include advanced technology as part of an “intelligent signals system”, she said, and “the location of the junction on the seafront would mean any emissions that build up on the seafront would disperse more easily”.

Councillor Bridget Fishleigh asked about the effect on traffic and safety at Duke’s Mound, not least with the council planning to move the Brighton Centre to nearby Black Rock.

Councillor Pissaridou said that concerns about vehicles joining the A259 Marine Parade from Duke’s Mound would be dealt with by installing intelligent traffic lights.

Brighton Language College director Gary Farmer, who lives in Old Steine, also asked about pollution.

Mr Farmer said: “Current Illegal pollution levels throughout the city centre are a lethal danger to residents, workers and visitors.

“And yet current Valley Gardens plans intentionally make this worse for the east of the city.

“World Health Organisation director Maria Neira suggested last week that politicians should face prosecution for knowingly exacerbating air pollution on their watch.

“No politician will be able to say I didn’t know because we all knew.

“Advocates for the Valley Gardens scheme repeatedly talk about winners and losers – but this isn’t a game.

“Will the council conduct a full and open environmental impact assessment for the scheme?”

Councillor Pissaridou said that air quality in the Valley Gardens area was within international agreed limits, adding: “The overall impact on air quality will be relatively low.”

Councillor Lee Wares said that two previous council road schemes – in North Street and Lewes Road – had led to pollution becoming worse.

He was told that cleaner greener buses were making a difference and taxis with cleaner engines would soon be more common on the roads of Brighton and Hove.

Community campaigner Adrian Hart told the committee: “It would be a tragic irony if the original Valley Gardens vision for cleaner air and safer movement of pedestrians and cyclists ends with the exact opposite.

“If the rationale is to nudge people from car use by making things worse, the council should not only make this strategy explicit but first invest in affordable efficient public transport alternatives while providing impact data estimating how much worse and for how many years.

“We feel certain that this committee would not sanction a project that altered car driver behaviour at the cost of potentially fatal spikes in child asthma.”

Valley Gardens Forum chair Daniel Nathan said that it was a “burning public health issue”.

Requests for a pause in the project to allow for “proper consultation” were again turned down, including for the changes at Duke’s Mound.

The committee agreed to work more closely with event organisers, including those associated with festivals such as the Brighton Fringe.

Members committed to spend more than £170,000 installing permanent power and water supplies and access to the sewers for temporary event sites in the Valley Gardens area.

The organisers of events such as the Ladyboys of Bangkok are expected to pay charges that will cover the running costs of those services.

Frank Le Duc, Local Democracy Reporting Service.