15 April 2014…..Green Administration Cllr Pete West put a letter in the Argus over the weekend explaining their desperate financial plight and need for the i360 to rescue BHCC from financial disaster. Read it and weep.
The letter lays out the desperado motivation for Brighton & Hove City Council latching onto the i360 bailout as a somehow constructive move that will help the Council to pay for itself. How sad is that? It is a not a constructive, positive investment move. It is a bailout of a failed private project by Marks Barfield, on private land owned by The West Pier Trust, which failed over an eight year period to gain or retain sufficient private financial backing from anywhere in the world for it to be built. As a project it has been SHUNNED – from even before the global financial crisis that began in 2008. This got planning consent in 2006 in the heady years of financial hubris and insanity. But never had the finance to put it up.
Most normal people would take this to mean it will not generate a return on investment.
Until 2012 there was some backing, but not enough. As soon as BHCC agreed in July of that year to borrow £14m to make up the shortfall, the original private finance took flight leaving Marks Barfield with only the £6m worth of their own investment spent on the planning, and on the manufacture of the pole (in storage in parts in Holland). There is nobody in the world willing to back this project. Nobody. But BHCC believe they are going to earn a mountain of money not just from lending £36.2m backing for the building of it (and underwriting the £4m Coast to Capital LEP contribution) but additionally from 1% of ticket sale revenues. How will that work? And how might machinations to achieve it impact elsewhere?
The only way to get people into that glass and steel doughnut on a pole (which will sway considerably at the top, inducing vertigo and panic in some people, vomiting from others) or to force people to pay for it – whether or not they go up the pole – is to bundle it into a multi-ticket. So, you will see The Brighton Centre bookings include a ride up the pole. You will see tickets to the Aquarium or Royal Pavilion including a ride up the pole. Travel firms booking people on a package trip will have a ride up the pole. This of course means making all the other stuff more expensive, which is not helpful. Advertising and marketing costs will come partly from BHCC budgets. This was made clear at Policy & Resources on March 6th 2014 when a Marks Barfield representative spoke of joint marketing.
If the project fails to pull in thousands and thousands of visitors daily, year-round daily, it will fail as a business, the loan and interest payments will not be payable. And BHCC will own it as seized goods. And then have to sell it on at a knock-down price, leaving local taxpayers to repay the loan and accrued interest on the loan. Does BHCC think the government is going to write off the Public Works Loan Board debt?
The Marks Barfield website provides an engineering article from 2012 with important details. It tells us that the i360 would be engineered to withstand a maximum wind velocity of 110mph for a few seconds. One wonders how it would fare in several hours of 100mph gusting winds. We have had that. It further indicates that if wind is gusting at 44mph the ride would not run. We get that quite frequently, actually. Climate change and altering weather patterns, showing a tendency to extremes, means this pole could topple in years to come during a weather event. Prevailing westerlies suggest it would land on the Metropole Hotel. Every once in a while giant wind turbines fail and fall over in high winds. Why would the i360 be immune? It is just a pole, using cable car technology to pull the pod up it. Why are some people trumpetting it as Great Architecture? It isn’t even unique in concept.
Here are a couple of other, similar, viewing towers
The tourist resort of El Kantoui was built in Tunisia in 1979. A letter in the Argus on 3.4.14 drew attention to a doughnut on a pole viewing tower erected there – with tiny photo. Google this and a night shot of it can be found. See it here. Painted with lurid blue light and instead of a solid pole, a scaffold. It looks better than the Marks Barfield one, but still has that Blackpool/Las Vegas vulgarity to it.
In Weymouth, on the Dorset coast, there is one even more similar to the i360. Just shorter at about 53m. It cost £3.5m to build and opened in 2012. See it here. How would i360 be evacuated? Not known. But here is how the Weymouth one is evacuated. View this!
A game of Consequences
Why isn’t BHCC understanding the extreme folly of bailing out a failure and how this messages to watching developers? They will, in future, deliberately cost-in a contribution from BHCC when budgeting for a new project proposal. They’d be silly not to. Just how much Public Works Loan Board Debt can BHCC service? Shouldn’t it be taken on for a rebuilt King Alfred Leisure Centre on Council owned land? Or as a contribution to a new Brighton Centre? Or, or, or? What about the disgrace of Black Rock, where once a Lido thrived?
Without this loan, Marks Barfield would have to absorb the £6m loss or get some other mug to give it land for its pole. Without this loan, The discredited West Pier Trust would have to fold up its tent. Without this loan, the rebuilt West Pier arches would have to be paid for by BHCC. GOOD! Borrow from the PWLB to pay for what is genuine regeneration. Without the £36.2m loan to Marks Barfield and The West Pier Trust, the West Pier wreck remains on the sea bed. Wreckage removal is part of the planning consent. And this is perhaps the biggest of all the reasons why BHCC is panicked into making the loan. But the West Pier Trust owns and is legally responsible for this; and all its Trustees are personally liable for its debts. Why should BHCC taxpayers be asked to take West Pier Trustees (including Glyn Jones, a one-time CEO of Brighton & Hove) off the hook ?
If built with public money, that spike would stand, with a pizza parlour at its base, totemically signalling unsophisticated vulgarity – cementing the image of contemporary Brighton & Hove as that – an obscene phallus, hypodermic, middle-finger salute to vulgarity, standing there, cheek by jowl with the architectural legacy of the area’s long gone, genteel, Regency, identity as Belgravia-on-sea.