A full house of Brighton & Hove business leaders came to hear from David Marks of Marks Barfield, architects behind the Brighton i360, at the Argus Business Matters lunch at Hotel du Vin (25 Sept).
After a delicious three-course lunch in the dome room behind Pub du Vin, business editor Finn Scott-Delany interviewed David on matters that business people have asked about in recent months.
In answer to the question, “Why Brighton?” David said that it was an amazing location for the i360 attraction and that there aren’t many places in the world where this scale of investment would work, but the large population in the region and the popularity and appeal of the city, made it the ideal location.
David Marks designed the London Eye and worked with the attraction for six years after it opened. Fourteen years on, it remains the number one paid for visitor attraction in the UK, with 4 million visitors every year, more than twice the next most popular attraction. It was also instrumental in causing the regeneration of the South Bank in London, which transformed from a bleak and deserted place to the thriving and vibrant area it is today.
At the meeting today, David explained that many people have approached him and his wife and architect partner Julia Barfield asking for them to recreate the London Eye in other cities across the world. However, he explained, it was hugely expensive and it was designed and built specifically for London, where it works as intended.
He said, “Everyone comes off the London Eye with a smile on their face and what we have done here is create a model which will achieve the same, but will cost a lot less.”
Finn asked David if gaining planning permission had been difficult and his answer was, “We consulted widely and took on board people’s views – it was lengthy and costly and we consulted for as long in Brighton as we did when we were seeking planning permission for the London Eye. If you do it properly, then planning should not be a problem.” In fact the scheme was warmly welcomed by the city 8 years ago, when planning was granted.
Finn asked why the project had attracted dissent in recent times and David explained that the issue had been communications around how the project was funded.
“People thought that it was going to be funded out of local tax payers money and of course it isn’t. While this criticism was reported and spread, we were working on the financial agreements and we kept quiet, offering little response. Unfortunately this allowed misperceptions to harden in people’s minds.”
“It was obviously going to be difficult to fund it after the global financial crisis but we found a solution and crucial to this is that the profits are going to be ploughed back into the city. It’s a real win win for the city.”
He explained that £6million of the funding came from him and his wife Julia, a further £4million is a loan from the Coast to Capital LEP and £36million is a loan from the Government’s Public Works Board via Brighton & Hove City Council, with the profit – over £1million per year – going back to the city. No local or rate payer money is going into it.
Moving on to visitor numbers, Finn asked if they were realistic and David explained that independent advisers applied trend calculations to come up with the expected numbers of around 700,000 visitors per year. However, he reassured him that even if a third of that number visited, the project would still succeed.
Guests in the audience asked questions too, including the price of tickets. David confirmed tickets will cost £15, with discounts for local residents, lower rates for children and under fives will go free.
He also confirmed that the Brighton i360 would support a Brighton Park & Ride scheme, if this option were to be resurrected by city leaders.
One question raised was about whether any lessons could be learnt from the Brighton Wheel, which will be removed when the i360 opens to the public in 2016.
David pointed out that this was a very different attraction, one which will fit over 200 visitors at a time and can offer a wide range of events and other features in its function rooms, exhibition space and restaurant at beach level.
As David left the room to join a Coast to Capital LEP meeting in Worthing, the room was a buzz with discussion and excitement about the anticipated regeneration that the i360 will bring to the city. General opionion? Bring it on!!
Thanks to The Argus for use of this photograph.