Thursday, 7 March 2013
Into The Valley
Big changes could be afoot in Brighton’s Valley Gardens. Er, where? Valley Gardens comprises twenty-three acres of gardens and lawns and includes an outstanding conservation area with fine examples of Regency architecture. It’s a series of green spaces running from The Level in the north, through to the Old Steine and the seafront in the south, taking in the area around St Peter's Church and Victoria Gardens.
But you wouldn’t know it if you were standing in the middle of it. Because although Valley Gardens is a massive space in the centre of Brighton, you could be forgiven for not noticing it was a garden at all. Although it appears on the map as a vast city centre park, it currently operates as a series of large traffic roundabouts and a set of obstacles to pedestrians and cyclists – walking from St. Peter’s Church to the seafront requires that a pedestrian makes 16 crossings and follows 2 dead ends. As per this map.
Despite being in the centre of the city many of these spaces are currently under-used as an attractive walking route or as an area for relaxing and socialising. Consultations have asked what improvements the public wanted to see in the area, and the council has run a series of workshops with local residents, businesses and other interested parties (including me) to come up with a master plan for what could be done.
But all this could be about to change because on 5th March, the council’s transport committee approved a scheme to improve Valley Gardens, and the next step will be to secure the funding and plan the stages of development over the next few years.
Proposals are at a very early stage, but ideas include making the area below St Peter’s Church for pedestrians only, linking it up with the north end of Victoria Gardens, planting more trees to lengthen the avenue of elms along the east side, and creating better public spaces by pedestrianising much of Marlborough Place with a design based on Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, which would see the road used as an exhibition space for events. Big changes would come to the Old Steine and through to Madeira Drive, with dedicated cycle and bus lanes and a tree-lined avenue for cars. The proposal is not just about traffic management - its about creating a better deal for pedestrians, cyclists, bus passengers and anyone who feels that Valley Gardens has been performing below its best potential for years.
It's hard to disagree with Councillor Ian Davey, chairman of BHCC’s Transport Committee, who said “Valley Gardens has huge potential as a public amenity space, and plays an important role in connecting city destinations. At the moment it’s clear the green spaces are underused and movement through the area can be difficult whether you are travelling by vehicle or on foot. Feedback from consultation shows that Valley Gardens is currently falling short of it’s potential as a key public place and an important route through the city and we want to put this right. We want to create an attractive, flexible, safe space that adds to the appeal of the city centre and is a place that will attract residents and visitors throughout the day, and throughout the year.”
Which makes more sense than the amazing comment by labour's transport spokesperson Councillor Alan Robins, who said: “We can’t get away from the fact that it’s in the heart of the city and it’s never going to be a wilderness.” Or Conservative Councillor Tony Janio who said: “We’re in the centre of the 12th biggest city in England. We’re never going to turn it into the Masai Mara.” Watch out for the lions….
Photos of Valley Gardens by Urban Realm Design.