The council has applied for ‘Parks for People’ money from the Heritage Lottery Fund to renovate the Level. This bid for funding is at the heart of today’s concerns about the future of the Level and in particular the open, green north end, but if the next stage of this bid were to be sensibly managed then the present threat to this area of the Level could pretty much disappear. Here is a brief history of the Bid:
Having allowed the fabric of the Level to steadily deteriorate over the last 30-odd years, the council finally decided that since it was unwilling to finance the repairs itself, it would try and get hold of some of the vast funds that the National Lottery has available. In 2009 the council employed London consultants who advised that it should put in a bid to the HLF for ‘Parks for People’ funding and that the ‘heritage’ aspect of the bid should be directed at Captain Bertie’s 1920’s municipal playground, the vestiges of which occupy part of the southern end (along with a toddlers’ play area, a kids’ play area, a skate park and a cafe). On this basis the council has now secured first stage funding of £106,400 to further develop its plans. The council is now attempting to tick the vast array of boxes, many of them ‘consultative’ in nature, and many of them needing the agreement of local ‘community groups’, that are required for the bid to succeed.
However, whilst preparing its PfP bid, the council has been conducting separate, parallel consultations with the users of the Level’s skate park who have been lobbying the council for years for a new and improved skate park. [This new skate park is not part of the PfP bid and would not receive any funding from a successful bid; it is to be funded by S106 Agreement money from Richmond Place,York Place and Brighton Station developments.] The council had hoped to move the skate park out of the ‘heritage’ end and into the open ‘there’s-plenty-of-space-and-there’s-no-lobby-group’ end. The council attempted to justify this move after a flawed and lacklustre consultation but the ensuing uproar has made it pause for a rethink and wonder where it all went wrong.
Quite simply it went wrong when it employed ‘experienced’ ‘funding advisers’ who were not local and did not know the real heritage of the Level. They came and saw and found its ‘heritage’ in the remains of Bertie’s playground and said; ‘There’s your heritage, base your bid on that. Oh, and by the way, one minor detail: no skate parks in Bertie’s day – so that’ll have to go – if you want the bid to succeed.’ No problem, thought the council, we’ve been promising the skaters a new, bigger sunken concrete skate park and now we’ve got the go-ahead to move it over the other side of Rose Walk where there’s plenty of room.
That was a big mistake, because it is an historical fact, common knowledge and widely accepted, not least by the council itself in its PfP bid, that the northern end of the Level between Rose Walk and Union Road has for forever been an open space for the recreational use and benefit of all local residents for football, dog-walking, Frisbee, picnicking, sunbathing, funfairs, political rallies, Brighton Festival events, music events, naked bike rallies, etc. – the list is endless and obvious.
The council now finds itself attempting to succeed in a bid for Heritage Lottery Funding which, if successful, would destroy the most important heritage of the Level which is its green and open space in the north.
The council could have made a bid based on the landscaping heritage of the Level which is Regency and dates from the 1820s when it was originally laid out by A. H. Wilds and Henry Phillips as part of a green open vista running from Park Crescent to the Palace Pier. And its bid could have included a new and improved skate park in the southern ‘playground’ section where the ‘heritage’ is fun activities. Such a bid would surely meet with little, if any, opposition; why should it – it is simply improving on what already exists.