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Ferguson in Brighton pier storm

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The RIBA's president-elect has walked into a storm of protests after calling for KSS Sport and Leisure Design's plans for Brighton's West Pier to be shelved in favour of a fresh design competition.

George Ferguson, speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, said there was no reason to rebuild the structure and called for a fresh dialogue over the future of Brighton's landmark.

But KSS, which is awaiting a planning decision on existing plans for the pier, said Ferguson should 'steer clear' of the debate and should not comment on things 'about which he knows nothing'.

Ferguson told listeners, following the structure's collapse on 29 December, that a design competition should go in search of a new kind of pier, one which combines modern architecture and sustainable technology.

'We should have a sensible debate about the future, looking at what a pier is for in the 21st century, ' Ferguson told the programme. 'Given the collapse, we should question the ethics of simply replicating the old building.'

Ferguson told the AJ after the interview that he wants to see a competition launched that would set designs for a new pier against the existing plans.

However, KSS managing director David Keirle was furious. 'These comments leave me extremely frustrated, especially when they come from our very own president-elect. They were completely unnecessary. Who would pay for this new structure and why would anybody chose to destroy the existing buildings when they can be rescued anyway?'

Keirle said the recent collapse of the middle section of the pier would have very little impact on the practice's proposed designs. 'Most of the structure was going to be either replaced, or removed, fixed and then returned. All we'll have to do now is get it off the seabed instead. Ferguson should refrain from making comments on subjects about which he has very little knowledge, ' he added.

And Bennetts Associates, responsible for a rival scheme for the site proposed by local campaigner Save Our Seafront (AJ 11.7.02), agreed that Ferguson had gone too far.

'The city's people would take some persuading that the whole structure should be replaced as it is very popular, ' the practice's director, Julian Lipscombe, said. 'Ferguson should recognise that there is a lot of mileage left in the existing structure's designs as they stand.'

Ferguson added that he was sympathetic with KSS's frustration with his remarks. 'But the practice should not be miffed with me, they should be miffed with the hand of God, ' he added.

Brighton & Hove City Council said it would be inappropriate to comment on Ferguson's assertions, given that KSS's plans remain in the planning process.

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