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THE SOUTH COAST IS LOOKING UP

AGENDA

Brighton and Hove's vote of confidence in Wilkinson Eyre's controversial £235 million skyscraper at Brighton Marina sets something of a precedent for tall buildings along the city's famous shoreline.

Predictably, conservationists have vowed to continue opposing the scheme - despite the planning subcommittee's nine-to-three mandate in favour of the 40-storey tower last Friday.

But while the likes of Save Hove are getting hot under the collar, let's not lose sight of the fact that Brighton Marina, as it stands, is something of an architectural desert in dire need of regeneration.

Moreover, as the tower's convoluted journey through planning shows, Brighton and Hove is not about to become another high-rise hell like Marbella - even if Frank Gehry gets the green light for his troubled towers project on Hove seafront.

'Gehry has been put through the wringer, demonstrating the rigorous nature of the city's planning department, ' says Wilkinson Eyre associate director, Giles Martin, about the Californiabased star's troubled time on the south coast.

Besides its landmark tower, Wilkinson Eyre's proposal includes 853 eco-homes - 14 per cent less than originally envisioned - along with a series of new bars and restaurants and a mechanical swing bridge creating a 2km walkway around the marina.

This is a fairly radical revision of the architect's original masterplan, submitted for approval in November 2004.

Although the scheme gained the unequivocal support of the council's planning assistant director Martin Randall, it failed to convince Brighton and Hove councillors and was refused a year later.

The scheme sank on four key points: its siting, layout, height and visibility.

Eighteen months on and Wilkinson Eyre has finally managed to win the city's hearts and minds by removing three key buildings from its original masterplan and significantly increasing parking and leisure provision.

Randall told the AJ, 'It's not been an easy process but the density issues are dealt with and the tower will be a catalyst for revitalising the marina.'

Throughout the saga conservationists such as Save Hove's Valerie Paynter have vociferously opposed the project, claiming it is out of keeping with Brighton and Hove's coastal style. Yet CABE, English Heritage and even the council's conservation and design team have repeatedly said the development will not detract from the city's wealth of historic architecture.

Naturally Paynter remains fiercely opposed, but she conceded the latest version was a 'nice piece of design', albeit 'totally out of context'.

Wilkinson Eyre's tower looks set to start on site within a year. Although Gehry's proposal languishes in the shallows of planners' in-trays, the latest move in favour of tall buildings should pave the way for more towers in the future.

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