Griff Rhys-Jones’ visit to meet members of the Brighton Society

Jeremy Mustoe, The Brughton Society shares the story of Griff Rhys Jones' recent visit to meet the Brighton Society

We suggested to Griff that we could do a short walking tour in the central area of Brighton to show him a few examples of recent and current concerns the Brighton Society have been - and still are - involved in.

We started off at the Grade II* Hippodrome, the former ice rink converted into a theatre by Frank Matcham in 1901. It has been unused and neglected since 2007 and had been deteriorating rapidly. In the nick of time it is now being repaired by Matsim, a local property developer who intends to restore the building for use as an entertainment venue.

We then walked down to the seafront noting the neglected remains of the ruined West Pier, but also commenting favourably on the rebuilt Shelter Hall restaurant complex - a rare example of the City Council making an excellent job of something. We then walked along to Brighton Pier to view and discuss the rapidly deteriorating, and so far unrestored Grade II* listed Madeira Terraces - the longest cast iron structure in the world.

From there we also pointed out the one and a half mile long array of 216 listed buildings between the end of the pier and the Grade I Listed Lewes Crescent at the eastern end, immediately beyond which is proposed to be located a densely packed urban conglomeration of eleven tall buildings up to 12 storeys high – a totally inappropriate development which the Brighton Society is fighting hard against.

We then walked inland through Valley Gardens, currently in the process of being “improved” by the Council. The original praiseworthy intention of creating more public open space will be massively diluted in some areas by the introduction of 4m wide 2- lane cycle routes complete with pedestrian crossing points, passing right through the middle of the newly pedestrianised areas.

The design brief for the other new open spaces seems to have been dictated by the requirements of large public events such as markets and fairgrounds at the expense of seating areas - of which there hardly any - nor much in the way of landscaping and planting areas to provide shade and protection from wind. We have made representations to the Council expressing our concerns.

On the way through Valley Gardens we noted the scourge of graffiti evident everywhere, particularly the three listed Art Deco bus shelters right in front of the Royal Pavilion which suffer from constant embellishment by taggers. We are constantly publicising our concerns about the graffiti problem in the city with short films and meetings attended by councillors.

We touched upon the Edward Street Quarter nearby, still under construction, where the local community’s ideas and preferences had been ignored by both the developers and the Council.

We ended our tour at the recently completed Circus Street development. We had objected to the proposals on the grounds that over-development of the tight site would result in the spaces between the buildings being dark and sunless –which they are - although, as Griff pointed out, the buildings themselves were attractively designed.

We covered a lot of ground in our many discussions during the walk. We all enjoyed meeting Griff and were inspired and infected by his enthusiasm and knowledge.