This afternoon the City Council’s Policy and Resources Committee will meet in special session to discuss an increase in the proposed loan to the developers of i360 to £36m. Having now had a chance to read the papers, I do not believe that they make the case for the loan to go ahead, and urge Councillors to reject the administration’s recommendations.
Then context is simple. i360 is a private project that the private sector won’t fund. The only justification for public support is that it will bring the community as a whole substantial benefits that would not otherwise be available. But in my view that case simply has not been made in the current papers. The recommendation from officers contains a number of headline figures for jobs generated, and for tourist income – but there is no supporting argument and the key supporting documents on the business case have been redacted on the Council’s website. There is no overall economic case, no systematic appraisal of the public benefits – or at least that we, the Council Tax payers bankrolling the scheme, are allowed to see. This isn’t a procurement or a competitive tender – so why the secrecy?
Above all, the officers’ report is notable for the absence of the word “because”. There is no explanation of why the project should increase trade in Preston Street, for example. There is no explanation of why the capacity of the viewing platform has suddenly been doubled for a project whose key revenue driver is visitor numbers – why now? Claiming “raising Brighton and Hove’s profile” as an economic and regeneration benefit reeks of desperation. Above all there is no attempt to appraise the value for money of i360 against the benefits that other types of expenditure could bring. For example, housing refurbishment – which we badly need in the city – brings very high multiplier effects, with most of the economic benefits staying in the community.
And there are no environmental appraisals. This crucially is a project based on attracting new, car-driven visitors to the City. There is no attempt to examine the traffic and other impacts of this – other than a claim that increased revenue from the Regency Square car park will materially add to the project’s benefits. Where is the evidence that increasing the city’s dependence on car-borne visitors is sustainable? The papers talk of a two-hour journey-time to the City, but on a hot summer weekend it can already take more than an hour to get from the Patcham roundabout to the seafront. It’s astonishing that a Green administration does not see this as an issue.
I blogged some time ago that there was no case for public support for i360. The latest papers have not changed my view that this is a vanity project that simply does not demonstrate value for money for the taxpayer, or that it can bring serious regeneration and economic benefits to the city. There are serious sustainability issues. It just beggars belief that this project is being supported by a Green-Tory alliance. The case for this loan simply has not been made, and I simply do not believe that a responsible council could support it. I hope – though I have no grounds for believing – that this afternoon’s meeting will, at the last minute, see sense.