There’s an ultimate irony in the plight of Brighton’s i360 seafront attraction: it has a 360 degree view of the south of England and into France, and yet it never saw a £36 million debt coming from all angles. The beleaguered venture now has six months to find a clear view ahead – and £922,296 in debt repayments to the council.
Brighton & Hove Council has confirmed that it will defer a debt repayment instalment, totalling £570,000, owed by the Brighton i360 company to the end of the year.The payment was scheduled to be paid last week, but difficult trading conditions had forced the directors to seek a deferral from the council, a request that was unanimously approved.
But the decision wasn’t a comfortable one, either for the i360 company or the council.The payment due will be added to the next instalment in December, leaving the operator to find nearly £1 million in six months,a tough ask considering it had failed to provide little more than half that so far this year.And for the council, concerns are growing that a flagship project so heavily invested in by the tax-payers of Brighton and Hove is so vulnerable.
Bad weather has been identified as the key reason for the i360’s under-par performance, and, the operators say, more stag and hen parties, conference options, sky dining events and special packages with Thameslink and the city’s universities are being promoted to raise commercial confidence for the tower. Six months to turn things around will certainly help,although what dramatic climate changes are expected between October to December is anyone’s guess, however, the i360 attraction remains in operation albeit under a thick black cloud.
Hovering behind with some ray of sunshine is Luke Johnson, the serial entrepreneur who has driven Brighton Pier to outstanding commercial achievements;he is not impressed with the current efforts of i360 and he wants to take it over. That,though,must wait until the new year and the success of the i360 board and an independent advisor,specialist in visitor attractions, who has been appointed and funded by the council to help ease the woes.
Greens councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is among those concerned about the future.Talking to the Argus, he said: “We have to get this right. I am supporting this or the city and for the benefit of everyone. There has been fantastic regeneration of that bit of the seafront.”
But he added: “We are using public money for commercial enterprise working with the i360 board,” and for that reason, he indicated, the council must work to the right outcome.
What that will be will unfold over the next six months. What it will say is another matter: seaside regeneration clearly needs economic nous. On the south coast of England that is currently being served up in a sweet and sour sauce – sweet on the piers of Eastbourne and Brighton, and bitterly sour on Hastings Pier and the Brighton i360. Local authorities, it seems, have been picking the wrong sauce on these particular dishes.