Thursday, 25 February 2010

Whitehawk Hill

Only just over a mile from the Clock Tower and nearly 400 foot above sea level is a remnant of downland which offers an unrivalled viewpoint over the City & Bay of Sussex.  In the near distance can be seen the greenery surrounding the railway cutting that served the Kemptown goods station. Hidden at the north end of the cutting lies one end of the tunnel that emerges alongside the Elm Grove primary school. The south end of the tunnel is used for storage, the Elm Grove end is blocked off. What a waste of a good tunnel! 

Whitehawk HIll  includes a neolithic enclosure which was the first Scheduled Ancient monument in Sussex and is a relic of ancient habitat designated a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) with areas of species-rich chalk grassland supporting colonies of Adonis and Chalkhill Blue butterflies. Yet little is made of the site  by the City. One suspects it is rarely visited and, instead of being cherished and protected as a unique beauty spot  it has been largely ignored; or spoilt with unsympathetic encroachments, by a succession of seemingly uncaring Councils. 

I wonder how many past or present Councillors have ever walked the short distance of the western flank along Whitehawk Hill Road at sunset; or visited the site at all to see how it might be enhanced & preserved.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Trees in Brighton - an earlier opinion.

The recent successful campaign to save the Clyde Road plane trees reminds me that people did not always feel so strongly about urban trees. Here is an extract from "Sunny Brighton" by the Victorian nature writer Richard Jefferies (1848-1887). He lived at 3 Lorna Road for a few years after 1882.  The house bears a commemorative plaque.

"Trees are not wanted in Brighton; it is the peculiar glory of Brighton to be treeless. Trees are the cause of damp, they suck down moisture, and fill a circle round them with humidity. Places full of trees are very trying in spring and autumn even to robust people, much more so to convalescents and delicate persons. Have nothing to do with trees, if Brighton is to retain its value. Glowing light, dry, clear, and clean air, general dryness--these are the qualities that rendered Brighton a sanatorium; light and glow without oppressive moist heat; in winter a clear cold. Most terrible of all to bear is cold when the atmosphere is saturated with water. If any reply that trees have no leaves in winter and so do not condense moisture, I at once deny the conclusion; they have no leaves, but they condense moisture nevertheless. This is effected by the minute twigs, thousands of twigs and little branches, on which the mists condense, and distil in drops. Under a large tree, in winter, there is often a perfect shower, enough to require an umbrella, and it lasts for hours. Eastbourne is a pleasant place, but visit Eastbourne, which is proud of its trees, in October, and feel the damp fallen leaves under your feet, and you would prefer no trees."

His feelings may have been somewhat coloured by his suffering from tuberculosis throughout his life and which accounted for his early death. I am glad that over the intervening 125 years his opinions do not seem to have been extensively followed.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Brief Encounter

One early evening many years ago I was floating in a small wooden canoe a few hundred yards off Brighton beach. It was fairly calm. I suddenly became aware of a disturbance in the water to one side and then to the other. Grey humps were briefly breaking surface 10 or so yards away and I realised I was in the middle of a pod of dolphins. I had just had time to feel a fleeting concern that I might be tipped over when one surfaced close alongside.  As it did so it rolled slightly and a knowing mammalian eye seemed to look straight at me. For barely a second we had eye contact and then it was gone, as were its companions. A moment to treasure.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Seafront Railings

It is excellent news that the City Council has recognised the importance of the Victorian cast-iron work to the appearance of our world famous sea-front.  They are to devote £0.5M to restoration work with an ongoing maintenance budget of £100,000 per annum. One hopes this will be sufficient for the railings etc. to be treated something like the Forth Bridge and that this will ensure their long-term preservation. There must be some reservations as to whether £0.5M will be sufficient, especially if it is to cover the Madeira terraces, but at least it is a start and makes an encouraging change from past neglect.

However in the past few years some work has been done. At the Carousel steps entirely new railings have been installed with the proportions neatly adapted to bring them to regulation height.

Elsewhere long stretches are too low, probably due to raising of the pavement and will also need complete replacement.
  I hope the work includes the iron ornamentation on the West St. kiosk which looks to be in an advanced state of corrosion.

In Victorian times cast-iron was cheap, sturdy, and available locally from the several foundries in the North Laine. The seafront work must have provided livelihoods for many of Brighton's Victorian workers.

Boots at the Clock Tower

Today, wanting to get a better view of the complicated hard-landscaping going on at the Clock Tower, I wandered on to the upper floor of Boots and over to the window overlooking Queens Road. The view from here didn't leave me much the wiser regarding the worksite but, what did strike me, as always, was the complete absence of any of the signs of normal retail activity around me.  Certainly no customers with the gleam of acquisition in their eyes casting around for the paypoint, but also no browsers, no staff.  And this in an area devoted to kid's stuff during a half-term holiday in what must be the most valuable square-footage of retail space on the south coast! How can Boots afford it?

Up until about 10 years ago, on the same floor, but over on the North Street side, there was a very popular self-service restaurant. The staff were friendly, the seating area was comfortable, with views down North Street, and the food was adequate. To reach the restaurant customers had to wend their way through shelves loaded with what I believe are termed 'fancy goods'; items like candles, fancy picture frames and mass-produced little ornaments. Even then I remember wondering at what could be the turnover and profit margin for this stuff that would justify it occupying such valuable space.

Then the suits at Head Office must have got together and decided that the coming thing  was the provision of such fringe medical procedures as laser-eye correction, chiropracty, maybe botox and chiropody; I can't remember exactly.  The restaurant was swept away and in place of the lively chatter of coffee-drinkers, the clatter of cutlery and the hiss of urns, came silence, and a forbidding clinic reception area staffed by a perfectly made-up receptionist, also in white, who never appeared to have enough to do. The contrast was staggering!

It obviously wasn't a success. In September 2004 this also was swept away and, to this date, nothing has replaced it. Behind the white hoarding lies the remains of a kitchen and at least the same area again of unproductive space*.

I still miss the restaurant but otherwise am a disinterested observer.  If I was a Boots shareholder however I would be asking some very pointed questions about this situation which has persisted for at least 10 years

*Hasty footnote. Since posting I have heard that there may be a Doctor's Surgery behind the hoarding. So perhaps Boots are getting some rent. It still seems a strange use of potentially valuable retail space.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

uPVC windows cost owner dear

A property owner who installed uPVC windows in a conservation area has been ordered to pay more than £2,000 by Brighton Magistrates today, Monday, 15 February.

Douglas Newman, owner of ‘Goldarts’ Jewellers and Pawnbrokers, installed uPVC windows in the maisonette above without applying for planning permission. The premises at 1A, York Place , Brighton , is in the Valley Gardens Conservation Area.

Mr Newman applied for planning permission retrospectively but it was refused. He also claimed the new windows were replacing old uPVC windows but a 2006 Retail Survey carried out by the council showed the original wooden sash windows.

The council issued an enforcement notice and instructed the owner to return them to the original timber sliding sash windows. When he refused to comply with the planning notice, the council took court action.

Mr Newman pleaded guilty and was fined £1,500 plus £810 costs and £15 victim support contribution (total £2325).

Councillor Lynda Hyde , chairman of Brighton & Hove’s planning committee, said: “After several appeals, all of which were turned down, Mr Newman continued to ignore the council’s instructions to restore the windows back to their original state. Planning regulations are there for good reason, in this case to preserve the character of the conservation area, and we have no hesitation in going to court in such cases.

“I would encourage anybody who is in breach of planning regulations to contact officers straight away to discuss resolving the matter before formal action has to be taken against them.”

Mr Newman now has eight weeks to provide the council with a timescale of work to restore the windows.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Poynings from the Dyke. Then & Now

"Then" being 100 years ago:-

"Now" being February 2010:-

The trees and scrub have spread up Newtimber Hill and Newtimber Woods appear to have increased in area.  In the distance one can just make out the beginning of the modern suburban sprawl starting at Hurstpierpoint. In Poynings itself houses now line the near side of the road between the Royal Oak and Glebe Cottage and more houses have been added at the western end. Also, in the modern picture, the 1930's cottages at Poynings crossroads can be seen. Otherwise many of the field shapes have remained the same and it is interesting that a separately cultivated strip of field in the older picture (centre) has now become a garden.

Author's Note. This blog is 1 year old this month. If you are a regular or occasional reader and enjoy it please add your name to a follower's list or a short comment to this entry. Many thanks.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Churchill Square Traffic

A marvellous opportunity to improve the busiest part of the City was missed when the current Churchill Square was designed. A bus route could easily have been provided under Churchill Square with passengers served by escalators which would disgorge them directly into the Shopping Centre. This would have avoided all the dodging to and fro across Western Road between the buses. Buses travelling west up North St. would turn left down West St. & then right into Regency Road, under the Centre to a bus stop, and then via a reestablished Clarence Street into Western Road.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Brighton's Hostile Parking Meters

In these days of crowded roads and heavy car use it is perfectly reasonable that motorists should be asked to pay for on-road parking. Indeed, they are not really in a position to criticise the charges made for this convenience. These charges are presumably arrived at  by the local authority taking into account  social, economic and environmental factors; whereas a motorist can only see it from one point of view, the effect on his pocket.

But, while accepting the need to pay for on-street parking, the motorist is surely entitled to have the means of handing over his money made as streamlined and fair as is possible. Not only do Brighton's parking meters not fit this description, they seem designed to be  positively hostile to the user.
  • The charges vary through the City, as do the times in which they are in operation. Unless one is very familiar with the area one has to find the relevant kerbside notice to check times, which often means walking in the road, and then locate and trek to nearest parking meter.
  • The charges displayed on the meter are in ridiculously small lettering and, at night, in tree-shaded, poorly-lit street are impossible to read with or without glasses.
  • Meters only accept one of the sums listed on the front, or a greater amount, but  do not give change. If you put in too much, you lose money. For example, if you want a half-hour's parking for 50p but only have a pound coin you do not get one hour, you lose 50p. If you go for the next level, £1.30 for 2 hours, you get 105 minutes you do not need. The meters do not accept credit cards. 
  • Many residents will be using the bus by day but resorting to their cars in the evening to avoid a long wait for a late bus home. Arriving at a parking meter shortly before 6pm or 8pm (depending on the area) they are faced with the dilemma of either taking a chance and not buying a ticket, or putting in too much money and being awarded time the next morning that there is no hope of their being able to use.
There is no need for it to be like this. The meters could be easily tweeked to issue a ticket with a parking duration simply proportional to the amount inserted. If, for example, the charge were to be set at 2p per minute and £1 were inserted a ticket timed for 50 minutes later would be issued. This would remove nearly all the problems listed above. There would be no need to decipher notices or scrabble for exact change or overpay.  Wherever parked  one would simply keep on inserting coins until the required time showed on the meter's illuminated display. The rate would of course be set by the council to ensure no loss of income. 

It would make life much easier for the motorist. But perhaps that is not the intention.

    Saturday, 6 February 2010

    A call to join the Brighton Society

    In a comment to an Argus article "Brighton Regency Society row rumbles on" Christopher Hawtree says:

    "People with a concern for architecture, and all that entails, could consider leaving the Regency Society and joining the Brighton Society, whose remit is clearly stated. Meanwhile, Hove surely deserves the creation of a similiar Society."

    Christopher Hawtree is a Hove-based writer & bibliophile who has had articles published in the New Statesman, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Times. He is an ardent defender of public libraries and was part of the successful campaign to retain Hove Library in its original Carnegie building, see "The Good Library Blog".

    Brighton Society's clear mission statement is: "to conserve and improve the amenities of Brighton & Hove. We encourage the preservation of architecturally and historically interesting buildings with their particular look and feel..."

    One of Brighton Society's most recent successes was in securing the Grade II listing of the victorian Connaught Road School, thus helping to preserve it from unsympathetic developments or even demolition..

    Hove, of course, already has the Hove Civic Society with similar aims, namely: "to stimulate community interest in the beauty, history and character of Hove and its surroundings. The Society encourages high standards of architecture, town planning and the conservation of buildings of historical interest."

    Anger over plans for six homes on Brighton greenfield land « Brighton and Hove News

    Anger over plans for six homes on Brighton greenfield land « Brighton and Hove News

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