Since opening in August 2016, the i360 has given inspiration and delight to hundreds of thousands of people, won 20 prestigious awards and delivered considerable economic benefit to the city of Brighton & Hove.
The attraction is currently undergoing a financial review which, due to the public funding involved, is being discussed in the local media.
So, what does it all mean? Here Julia Barfield, chair of Brighton i360 Ltd, answers some frequently asked questions.
How much did the i360 cost to build and who paid for it?
The i360 cost £49m to build. The bulk of this money, just over £36m, came from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB), via Brighton & Hove City Council. Coast to Capital (a Local Enterprise Partnership) contributed around £4m and the remaining £9m was paid by the private shareholders, predominantly the Marks Barfield family.
Are the shareholders making an income from the i360?
The private shareholders have taken no money out of the business, nor will we until the other commitments are settled. In fact, we’ve injected additional private money into the project since it opened.
How does the council element of the funding work?
The Public Works Loan Board is a central government fund which lends money to councils at a low rate, to allow them to invest in projects in their areas.
By acting as a middle person the council has been earning a margin from this arrangement, which so far it has used to regenerate the seafront, with new public plazas at West Beach, on either side of the i360. It has also earmarked part of this money for the Save Madeira Terrace project.
Why didn’t the council spend that money on schools, or roads, or social care?
Money from the Public Works Loan Board can only be used to fund projects which can generate, or are supported by, an income. Councils cannot usually use this kind of borrowing, for example, to fund schools, roads or social care. You can find out more about the PWLB here.
How else does the council benefit from its relationship with the i360?
Brighton & Hove City Council receives 1% of revenue from i360 ticket sales forever. It also earns significant business rates which support the funding of all council services.
The council also enjoys fringe economic benefits, such as increased use of Regency Square Car Park opposite the attraction, as well as rents and rates from new businesses on the seafront.
You can find out more about the council’s relationship with the i360 here.
Are there additional benefits to the city?
Yes! To date, the i360 has:
- created more than 100 new local jobs, all paying at least the Living Wage (72% of staff live within 5 miles of the attraction)
- helped raise the profile of the city and attract new visitors, which has in turn benefited the city’s tourism economy
- created an economic boost for the immediate area and acted as a catalyst for other projects in the city
- given more than 40,000 free tickets to the city’s state school children
- enabled more than 40,000 city residents to benefit from half-price tickets
- supported numerous charities and community events across the city, including the iDrop charity abseil which raised more than £40,000 for Rockinghorse.
- supported the local economy by using local suppliers and businesses wherever possible
So why are you going through a financial review?
The original business plan for the i360 was created several years before we opened, and those predictions formed the basis of our financial planning.
Visitor numbers haven’t been as high as projected, so we are taking responsible steps to adjust the business and reschedule our payments to the council and Coast-to-Capital, in order to secure the long-term benefits to the city.
What’s happening with the council at the moment?
Earlier this year, we asked the council’s Policy, Resources & Growth Committee to consider re-structuring the timings of our loan payments to allow us time to build the business.
The committee agreed to defer part of the June payment until the end of the year. It then recruited two consultants to support its decision-making – one financial expert and one attractions expert, to be paid for by the i360. The reports paint a positive picture of the visitor numbers the i360 can achieve in time.
At the PR&G meeting on December 6, the committee agreed to postpone a formal restructuring of the i360 loan for one year, to allow us time to continuing building the business.
Is there a chance that the i360 could close?
There is absolutely no question of closing the attraction and all forward bookings are completely secure.
What are you doing to attract more visitors and build the business?
We offer generous discounts to local residents to encourage year-round visits, and we are building on existing partnerships with other tourism businesses, for example our Multi-Attraction tickets with Sea Life Brighton and the Royal Pavilion; and the new Flight + Spa vouchers with Harbour Hotel.
We are active members of Visit Brighton and Tourism South East and work hard with them to promote the city to national and international visitors. We are also building our relationships with the travel trade and growing our successful private events business.
We are strengthening our board of directors with more attractions expertise. As such we are delighted to announce that David Sharpe, who is currently our interim CEO, will be taking up a permanent position on the board. David is former managing director of the London Eye and divisional director of Merlin’s London attractions, and has unparalleled expertise in both managing and developing attractions such as ours.
We are re-examining every area of the business and will be significantly increasing our investment in marketing in 2019.
With these measures firmly in place, we are excited about what lies ahead and confident that the i360 will continue to be a beacon of innovation and prosperity of which generations of Brightonians can be proud.