David Robson considers the current plans to remodel Valley Gardens and is disappointed.
Valley Gardens is a precious green lung that barely survives between two arteries of thundering traffic at the heart of our City. Framed by a theatrical backdrop of buildings of different styles and periods, it has the potential to act as an exciting urban promenade, as an event space, as a place of repose. However, plans currently being advanced by the Council fail to exploit this potential and promise little more than clipped grass, trampled flowerbeds and bonded gravel.
Back to the drawing board?
The Council's proposal for remodelling Valley Gardens (the space running between the main thoroughfares from St. Peter’s Church to the Royal Pavilion) is part of a proposed new traffic plan. Having studied it in some detail, your committee is urging the Planning Committee to deny the scheme planning permission and to send it back to the drawing board.
The proposal fails even to achieve the stated aims of its authors in terms of place-making, in terms of providing legible and safe links to other parts of the city, in terms of enhancing the important heritage assets that line the space, or in terms of making provision for a variety of outdoor events.
Large, featureless surfaces
The ground plane will be organised as a pattern of straight routes, generated by supposed desire lines that criss-cross the land contained between the two north-south highways, creating trapezoidal areas of grass or planting. Two large and featureless hard surface areas are defined, one to the immediate south of St. Peter’s Church and one opposite Gloucester Street.
Valley Gardens - an important historic setting in need of local touches
The scheme fails to promise an urban landscape of quality which is appropriate to its important historic setting. It is largely two-dimensional and offers no vertical elements to define and contain spaces or to shield them from the visual or aural effects of the traffic. The proposed planting – eg meadow grass, snowdrops & etc – is not appropriate to a heavily used urban location. The designers make no use of local materials – flint or cobble or Sussex brick – and no attempt is made to evoke the spirit of the place, the spirit of Brighton.
The applicant provides no details of street furniture. How will the gardens be lit? Where will people sit? The view of the proposed square in front of St. Peter’s, a vast sea of bonded gravel, shows no lighting fittings of any kind and is dotted with what appear to be cheap white plastic chairs from B&Q. Indeed everything looks cheap: materials are basic and no attempt has been a made to vary textures or create patterns. The result will be bland and uninspired. However, it is likely to incur in high maintenance costs - the vulnerable planting beds will be a nightmare to maintain.
The spirit of Brighton in Valley Gardens in the past: two images courtesy the Society of Brighton Print Collectors.Click to enlarge.
An important valley surrounded by heritage buildings
Valley Gardens occupies a significant urban space that acts as the main north-south axis of the City and as a prelude to the Seafront. It became a promenade at the end of the 18th C. and was laid out as formal gardens at the end of the Regency period. It is lined by important heritage buildings from the last two hundred years. We believe that such an important space deserves to be treated with the care and sensitivity that it deserves.
We need an exhibition
Finally, we believe that a design of such a scale and of such consequence should be the subject of a public exhibition. Such an exhibition would contain samples of materials and of street furniture, high quality visualizations and a three dimensional model to an appropriate scale. The proposal can be viewed on the Council’s website under BH2017/02583. You can see our formal comments here. Members are urged to add their own comments.