Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had wonderful Christmas break. When my young children wake me up at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning, I will be waking up to the exciting (and somewhat nerve racking thought) that the i360 will be opening next year (in 2016)!
It seems hard to believe that this time last year, we were still working on raising the £46million funds and here we are 12 months later with the Brighton i360 fully funded and construction well underway on Brighton beach and off site in Holland, France and Australia.
It is has been a long hard road to get us to this point. When the architects David Marks and Julia Barfield dreamt up the i360, none of us imagined what we would be faced by a global financial crisis and it would take us eight years to get to this point. But we had a shared vision (and sheer determination) to bring this engineering wonder – the world’s tallest moving observation tower and ‘son of the London Eye’ – to reality in Brighton.
It is a good time of year to reflect on all that we achieved in 2014:
Our first major milestone was on 6 March when Brighton and Hove City Council took the landmark decision to lend the i360 £36million. The Council has acted as ‘middle man’ borrowing money from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) – a government loan pot available for major building projects with a commercial return – and have lent it to us at a higher rate. This innovative funding solution is expected to earn the Council over £1million per year in profit on the interest, providing a much needed new income stream for the Council at a time when it is faced with huge cuts. Contrary to popular mythology, no council tax is being used.
This funding agreement was just the start. It then took us three months to reach ‘financial close’. Over 100 contracts were signed on 19 June with our funders and construction partners. I also ploughed my life savings into the project and became a shareholder and chief executive of Brighton i360. Together my fellow directors put £6million into the i360. The Coast to Capital LEP also loaned the i360 £4million.
Our first spade hit the ground on 29 July. It was a wonderful day with a carnival atmosphere – the sun shone and the mayor opened the new West Pier Arches shops next to our site, marking the symbolic start of the regeneration.
Local firm Dorton Group, immediately began dismantling and removing the wreckage of the ‘root end’ of the West Pier (the sea island will remain). Some of the iron columns will return in our scheme; other pieces have been sold off at Dorton’s reclamation yard in Burgess Hill. Our contractor, Sussex-based Mackley, set to work installing our construction road on the beach, put up our hoardings and site accommodation. Mackley then embarked with another local firm, CJ Thornes, on the huge challenge of rerouting the working Victorian sewer and the 12 electrical cables running beneath the site. Fortunately, we managed to reroute the cables, which power around one third of Brighton and Hove, without cutting off anyone’s electricity supply!
We had a few surprises in the ground. We discovered three rogue electrical cables that weren’t shown on any plans. We also uncovered a 138m long Victorian sea wall that nobody knew existed buried three metres underground, which we had to remove.
For me, the focus has been on building links with the community. We appreciate that working or living next to a building site can be a challenge, so we have worked hard to be open and transparent and to take on board feedback from the community. I have enjoyed getting out and about and giving presentations to various business and community groups in the city, as well as meeting many of our neighbours. It is great to see so much enthusiasm and support building for the i360. I have been party to many discussions about the future of a city as a whole. It is an incredibly exciting time for anyone living in Brighton and Hove – we are on the cusp of changing from a lively, seaside town to a major destination.
In September, I moved into offices in a Portakabin at our site on Brighton beach and was quickly joined by our first two employees, Ruth Chapman and Anna Prior. Ruth, our Public Liaison Officer, leads our community relationships, hosting community meetings as well as publishing newsletters and blogs to keep everybody informed. Anna, our Project Administrator, is responsible for setting up business operations before we open and keeping the entire team organised. Being based in the Portakabin with the construction team has given me a real appreciation of the huge number of processes involved in preparing a site for a build. It has not given me an appreciation for mud though – this is definitely the least glamorous aspect of the i360, as we have to cross a muddy site to get out of the office!
Of course most of the construction of the i360 is hidden from view at the moment as it is taking place off-site. In France, the bull wheels were manufactured for the pod, allowing it to travel smoothly up the tower, whilst in Holland we finished rolling our tower cans. In Spain, our flanges were manufactured, then shipped to Holland where they have been attached the tower cans. In Australia, the dampers have been produced.
I am proud of the type of company we are building. We have a vision to create a sustainable and ethical business. We have signed up to the Brighton & Hove Living Wage campaign – the first tourism business in the city. I believe that by paying a decent wage, we can attract the best people to work for us. And we have proudly used local businesses to flow as much economic benefit as possible into Brighton and the wider Sussex area. Our growing list of local suppliers have included Natural PR; Thank Social; Thomas + Trotman; Standard8; Kevin Meredith Photography; Gary Eastwood photography; HOP Engineering; Blue Edge; F10 Studios, Brighton CCTV and Latest TV. If you would like to work with us, please do get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will be hiring new staff and local businesses over the next two years and would love to hear from you.
We have also been forging links with other tourism and event providers who we will be partnering with when we open such as Brighton Marathon; Pride; Brighton Festival; Brighton Fringe; the Hilton Metropole; the Grand; Brighton Centre; Holiday Inn; the Biosphere and South Downs National Park. I have a strong philosophy about partnership marketing and believe we are all stronger if we work together to bring in business to the city.
So what is in store for the year ahead? On site, our first task in January will be connecting up our new sewer pipe work with the original Victorian sewer. Fortunately we have found a method which will not be ‘smelly’ although it will require some night time work when the sewage flow is at its lowest. We will aim to work as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
Next we will be doing the piling for our beach building followed by pouring the concrete for our tower’s foundations. All this is in preparation for the ‘beach landings’ this summer when the steel cans will arrive direct from Holland on a barge on Brighton beach.
I never thought I would be so excited by complicated engineering, but we are really looking forward to seeing the 162m tower being erected this summer! The whole process should take around 3 months and my team and I will have a great view of this ‘theatre’ out of our Portakabin window. I hope many of you will come down to Brighton beach to see the i360 tower being constructed this summer – or will watch it via our web cam, going live later on this month. We intend to run hard hat tours starting this summer if you want to get up close to see the build.
Next will be to add the glass pod to the tower. This will arrive in segments via the Euro Tunnel and will be connected together a bit like a giant orange. The final piece of construction will be to build the giant beach building around the tower with the brasserie, tea rooms, exhibition space, kids’ soft play, offices and hospitality facilities for up to 800 people.
The end of a year is also is a good time of year to say thank you. None of this would have come to fruition without the unwavering support of our partners. Thank you to our landlords, the West Pier Trust – it’s trustees and members, who had the vision to see the i360 as a ‘vertical pier’ allowing visitors to walk in air instead of the sea to gain a fresh perspective on Brighton.
A huge thank you to the Brighton and Hove Council and the Coast to Capital LEP who had the courage and foresight to support the i360 with a loan in order to help Brighton to retain its competitiveness as the UK’s top seaside tourist destination.
Thank you to our neighbours for being supportive of the project. We hope that all the disruption will be worth it when we open and their businesses begin to reap the rewards of increased footfall to the area; and residents can enjoy our facilities and a regenerated neighbourhood.
And finally, thank you to all of you who are following our progress through our blog, Twitter, Facebook or via our newsletter. I hope that you are as excited as we are about the i360.
Wishing you a very Happy New Year!
Chief Executive, Brighton i360