A meeting of FoTL was held last Tuesday 25 March at the Phoenix Centre, and this time there was to be no rising from the ashes. The meeting had been called to decide whether to dissolve the group or not. In the event, it was a mere suggestion of a meeting – only four people turned up: the “Chair”, the “Treasurer / Secretary” and the last two extant members, which pretty much emphasised how lifeless the organ had become. The previous meeting had been the abortive 2013 AGM, held almost a year ago, which was inquorate (it wasn’t reported here due to the acrimonious nature thereof) – so no surprise then that this was to be the last. Once the unanimous decision had been taken to dissolve the group, the only business left was to choose a charity to which to donate the balance of the group’s funds. The incorrigible “Two-Chairs” just couldn’t help having one last conflict of interest – he recommended that the money (approx. £600) go to Same Sky because they had fallen on hard times and he wanted them to be involved in this year’s Lantern Fayre, a Cook The Rabbit Event. There was one dissenter, but the Skies had it and so that was that. Meeting adjourned, end of story. Or is it? Will the soap be continued in “The Community of The Level Forum”? More than likely.
The Greens just don’t get it – as David Gibson was only too keen to demonstrate in his most recent flyer for Thursday’s by-election. In it he trumpets the party line that “…in only 2 years Greens have…breathed new life into The Level park”. New life! New life? D. Gibson is another of those residents who obviously was never a regular user of The Level – much like the irritating Brighton Bits. The worst fears of those thousands who petitioned against the hideous Heritaginous design are daily coming to pass as more of the final monstrosities are finally being revealed.
Monstrosity No. 1 – the skatepark! Because of its vast, grey concrete bulk and the fact that the path around The Level is raised. the skatepark has truly become The (Corpse of an) Elephant on The Level – the elephant that was studiously ignored by the Parks Project Team whenever possible in the planning stage, but now, so in-your-face that it not only dominates the North end of The Level, but also manages, due to the perspective, to foreshorten the view of what was once a wide, green, open space. So, that’s the North end wrecked as forecast!
Monstrosity No. 2 – the Restaurant! Because of its vast, ecological bulk and, as mentioned before, the fact that the path around The Level is raised, there is now an Elephant Rampant on The Level – so in-your-face that it dominates the South end and puts paid to any notion that dear old Bertie’s dream of a “green vista” was going to be realised. Now what was originally a symmetrical design in the South end has been turned into a lopsided, view-blocking eyesore, further adding to the now cramped and inner city feel of The Level – once a wide, gr…etc. And that’s the South end wrecked as forecast!
So who benefits from all this wanton wreckage? All those with their snouts in the HLF trough of course, and that includes the council. You only have to look at the serried ranks of brand new vans that grace The Level and the increasing and frenzied use of ever more fencing as one last mad dash for “contingencies” pot takes place. It’s been like an insurance job, where everyone puts in a rip-off quote, safe in the knowledge that there’s plenty to go round – and it’s “free” money, ripped off poor punters who only care about winning their millions, not where the billions are going.
Pay attention Green Spaces in Brighton and beware! Land Use Consultants and the HLF wants you to “develop”! Next stop Stanmer Park? Queens Park? Be prepared for more “Public Consultations” – and remember, you’ll be consulted until you agree with the plan that’s already well in place, and it makes no difference who’s running the council – they are all of them small, short-sighted, selfish individuals.
Friends of The Level, much criticised by KTLG over the years, has been stung into a semblance of action by a flurry of comments on its Facebook page. Mat Cook, chair of FoTL and director of Cook The Rabbit (an organisation that uses The Level to stage events), initially attempted to silence his critics by telling concerned members to take their grievances elsewhere. This just fanned the flames, and despite spirited support by Julia Davis (apparently a committee member, though her appointment, and those of two other committee members, is seriously at odds with the FoTL constitution) failed to quell the impending riot. We wait to see whether a long and fulsome explanation proffered by Mat “The Rabbit” Cook succeeds in dampening down the ardour of those energetic Facebook members – or whether it simply provides them with further ammunition. Could be a case of “Run, Rabbit, Run!” while there’s still the chance!
Further Friends of The Level documents, including General Meeting minutes are now available here.
Chris and Derek Ford, who run the kiosk in the children’s playground at The Level, face the bleak prospect of losing their business at the end of this month. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund with its prescriptive conditions and Land Use Consultancy’s free market plans, this couple, who have for over forty years served generations of children and their parents with light refreshments and ice creams, will now find themselves summarily without their livelihood. Not only have the couple served the playground users their snacks and teas, but they’ve also been a constant, vigilant presence there, a port of call for kids in distress, watchful eyes ready to summon help in emergencies long before the advent of the ubiquitous mobile phone.
So why lay the blame on the HLF and LUC? Because while the HLF may be ready to lash out £millions of Lottery Lucre, they also insist on having scores of boxes ticked, most of them of the politically correct kind, but they also want to know how a council is going to afford the upkeep of its new creation for the next 10 years. Fair enough you might think, councils, well Brighton and Hove City Council anyway, are notorious for leaving their properties (in this case The Level) to fall slowly into wrack and ruin (look at the present poor state of The Level) and then looking around for some (lottery) money to restore at vast expense what could’ve been maintained at a fraction of the cost. This is where LUC, who specialise in procuring HLF funding, have come up with a fine wheeze. They get their mates, the architects Knox Bhavan to knock out yet another version of their stock design for a large, modern, “eco” café and this plan (and job-for-the-boys) is then sold to the council as being a great way to pay for certain running costs associated with the new creation, for example, the café will be responsible for the upkeep of the public toilets etc. The result is that The Level gets yet another café in an area already well-served by eateries (see one objection to Planning Application – BH2011/02555 – the new Level café) and the Fords lose their livelihood!
When the Parks Project Team began its series of “The Level Workshops”, the first one was held on 20 November 2010 and it was clear then that Sasha Bhavan had already designed a café for the project. It was only after being harried by Group 1 of the workshopees that she half-heartedly conceded that there didn’t necessarily have to be a café – if people wanted a new kiosk, well that was always a possibility…she supposed. Nothing was set in stone yet – like heck! The fundamentals were all in place, the consultation was taking place, and would continue to take place, until these plans were endorsed by “the public”. Thus, from the very start of the consultation process, we were to have a new 52-seater café. So what about the kiosk and its occupants, how were they consulted / treated? Answer: they weren’t / with disdain. At no stage were they consulted as a business that was going to be directly effected by the new plans, let alone one that was to be wiped off the face of The Level. They were summoned to the PPT HQ at Hollingbury and asked what compensation they wanted for the loss of their business – and that was the one and only meeting Chris and Derek Ford had from anyone connected with the project. The PPT knew it could just send them a Section 25 form informing them their lease was terminated and that would be the end of the matter – so why talk to them.
And so to the actions of the councillors – all of them unfortunately Green, so no political capital to be gained by anyone there. Their behaviour was, if anything, even more reprehensible. One would have expected the local councillors to have known of the Fords’ plight, and been concerned about how they were going to cope with the situation. But nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the Greens being intimately involved from Day One with the Lottery Bid with both Pete “The People Have Spoken” West and Ian “The Gravy Train” Davey actively monitoring (some might say “spying on”) the whole process, attending Friends of The Level meetings, public workshops etc., and putting on the West ‘n’ Davey Show, they never met with the Fords. These two local councillors were involved in the decision-making process from the very start and by the end were in total control. Yet every single councillor ignored the Fords’ plight, presumably because none of them had the bottle or front to go and discuss with them their preordained and impending doom.
The decision by B&HCC planning committee last Wednesday to give the all clear to B&HCC to wreck The Level came and went much like the tide: as expected. The weaselly Ian Davey was substituted as requested, which at least meant the public didn’t have to endure his rictus grin, but it was a pyrrhic victory – the replacement Green just voted yes anyway.
And so the farce began, with the Skaters rep giving his 3 minute pitch as to why concreting over The Level was the only way to go, followed by a 3 minute silence in the public gallery while the spectators wondered where Friends of The Level had got to.
Next act – the poor council planner, Claire, stumbling through the motions of describing the well-worn mantra extolling the virtues of the council’s plan. The petulant Chair, Charles Hawtree, then opened the floor to a sad and limp selection of Questions from a few of the opposition members. Questions that nevertheless caused much head-scratching from the planning officers, thereby affording the opportunity to the petulant Chair, Charles Hawtree, to tell The Parks Project Team “to come on down” and have their say. This gave the ferret Iam Bonkers and Mother Anglin the floor to dissemble a while and have a last pitch, much to the satisfaction of all councillors present.
[The draft minutes make no mention of this incursion from the PPT. Maybe they shouldn’t have made such an appearance, surely all questions should have been directed to the planning officer. Should the PPT really be given unlimited bites at The Level? We should be told. Ed.]
And then on to The Debate – the opportunity for the Greens to spiel inaccuracies and equivocate, the Opposition to wring a few hands. Short and sweet, but hell, they all knew what was coming: The Vote. All five Greens: YES! Mrs. Theobald, the dutiful wife of the Theobald responsible for giving the Skatepark Plan the go-ahead: YES! One Tory and one Labour who had been appointed as token opposition: NO! The remaining four: ABSTAIN! Thus the result could be counted a unanimous points decision in favour of what they’d all first thought of: the skatepark built on the north with the faux Bertie’s Bits in the south. No shock horror, then, given that the time to get the plan changed was at the Full Council meeting last July, when not one opposition member spoke so much as one word against the HLF bid which necessitated the skatepark moving north. Further proof that local councillors rank even lower than the traffic wardens who pay their wages.