Business leaders and taxi drivers questioned the benefits of the third phase of the Valley Gardens project in the centre of Brighton.
Members of the Valley Gardens Forum, which represents residents and businesses in the Old Steine area, also spoke about their fears to councillors on Tuesday (March 19).
They are worried about the impact of the third phase of the scheme to change the road layout from St Peter’s Church to the seafront. The third phase is aimed at revamping the southern end – including the area in front of the Palace Pier.
During a marathon public question time session at Brighton and Hove City Council’s environment, transport and sustainability committee, they pressed for answers to their concerns.
The controversial changes to the road layout for the £8 million project include replacing the Aquarium roundabout – in front of the pier – with a T-junction and making Madeira Drive one way at its western end.
Traffic heading north and south along the A23 would all use the eastern side of Old Steine and the current bus stops on the western side would form part of a pedestrian area.
GMB union rep Andy Peters, from Streamline Taxies, said that he was speaking on behalf of the taxi trade.
He asked about the T-junction requiring all drivers emerging from Little East Street to turn left as they would no longer be able to turn back at the Aquarium roundabout.
Mr Peters told the committee that he had demonstrated the problem to committee chair Councillor Gill Mitchell and senior council officer Nick Hibberd on Monday February 11.
Councillor Mitchell said that the Little East Street issue would be considered when the detailed design of the scheme was drawn up and finalised.
Mr Peters also asked about the accident rate at the roundabout, which was given as a reason for the changes to the junction.
He said that there were about 50,000 traffic movements a day at the junction, or about 91 million journeys in five years, but there had been only one fatal accident.
In response Councillor Mitchell said that the junction had the highest number of injury accidents in Brighton and Hove and that traffic lights would make it safer.
Brighton Language School director Gary Farmer asked how a two-lane pinch-point in Old Steine could become a five-lane north and south bottleneck with a pedestrian area.
Councillor Mitchell said that the area had been designed many years ago and the changes would be ‘supported by more modern features’ and include technically advanced traffic signals.
Mr Farmer said: “There is no way on earth that the width of two lanes can fit into five.
“I am more than happy to stand there or lay down in the road. It is madness.”
He also spoke on behalf of colleague Nic Roe who asked how removing three metres of paving around the junction of St James’s Street to fit in five lanes of traffic would create a safe environment for pedestrians.
Councillor Mitchell said that changes to the position of a pedestrian crossing would change the way that people moved around the area and make it safer for large numbers of people.
Palace Pier finance director David Rochford asked how modelling could show bus movements when future traffic movements were unknown.
He told the committee meeting at Hove Town Hall that he felt that no one was listening to businesses and residents in the area.
Councillor Mitchell said that the bus companies were working with the council on route changes.
Paul Crawford described himself as an active resident of the area when he asked about when future consultations would take place.
He asked for a guarantee that the third phase would be consulted on including carriageways, layouts and junctions.
Mr Crawford said: “I never heard of this until a couple of months ago.
“I am shocked a scheme this big has occurred in secrecy, with the fictitious name Valley Gardens which no resident has ever heard of.”
The name Valley Gardens came about when the area was made a conservation area in 1973 and a label was needed, as it was known previously in the 19th century only as the North Steine Enclosures.
Councillor Mitchell said that public consultation had been carried out as required according to Department for Transport criteria.
Conservative councillor Lee Wares said: “What people are trying to get their heads around is when we talk about further consultation it is consultation on the current preferred option one.
“No further consultation on the scheme itself. Not the roundabout or the traffic going east or west.”
Councillor Mitchell said: “The preliminary design was agreed… It will not be redesigned.”
Further consultation is planned before a detailed design for the area is finalised by the end of this year.