We all know that last year the Green council, with support from the Conservative group on the council, voted through a 25 year loan of £36 million to the i360 project, against Labour opposition. That is a legacy to the council and the taxpayer that we have to live with, and hope that the project is a success. However, it is not the only legacy the outgoing Greens are leaving us with.
This week, in the dying days of their council administration, the Green Party is seeking to tie the council to a £20 million + five year project that would use all the available transport funding for the lifetime of the next Administration. It would condemn the city centre around the Old Steine to five years of roadworks. It would turn Valley Gardens – the area from St Peter’s down to the Aquarium roundabout – into an enormous park, at a time when the council is having funding for parks maintenance cut to almost nothing.
It would halve the road capacity of the major route from London on to our seafront, at a time when we are planning several major new developments and attractions there.
It would remove the Mazda Fountain and the Aquarium roundabout and replace it with an unworkable junction – despite assurances that it would not. It would bring in £14m of government funding, but the council would need to match 25% of that with its own money – money the council does not have. It is a project that has already cost the council £2 million at a time of unprecedented cuts.
The area does need better pedestrian access and cycle routes, and Labour pushed for improvements in 2006 when “Urban Realm” funding was available from the Labour government, but spending £14 million on a five year scheme is going too far.
All this at a time when the A259 seafront road, seafront arches and Madeira Terrace is literally crumbling onto the beach. All this at a time when more road capacity is needed to service the seafront, new shopping centre and new seafront arena – as well as the i360 – not less.
Make no mistake, this is a Green vanity project on a scale not seen before, a legacy of unfunded and unsustainable roadworks that will cripple a new administrations ability to do anything. That they have duped the Conservatives into supporting it – as they did with the i360 – is breathtaking. The Local Enterprise Partnership had concerns but these were dismissed by the Greens, who have built just 3% into the funding for “optimism bias” cost overruns, when the standard expected in major projects is 25%.
A Labour council under my leadership would immediately suspend all work on the Valley Gardens scheme, review whether it can be afforded or completed, and whether any of the funding can be used on what is surely our priority; Brighton and Hove seafront.
UPDATE: the Greens and Conservatives voted to move the scheme to the next phase at the final Environment and Transport Committee yesterday (17th March). Work will begin in September.