Madeira Terrace – a diminishing future?

Madeira Terrace – a diminishing future?

The scaling down of the extent of restoration of Madeira Terrace seems to be an ongoing process and the latest aims of the council are now down to restoration of 28 arches, a new lift and a new staircase.

We thought that it was timely to look back over the last few decades to ascertain how we got here.

Up to the closure of the Terraces and Sea Front during the 2nd World War regular painting of the whole length of the Terraces were carried out. The closure in the 1940’s meant that the maintenance ceased and only returned in the 1950’s.  The period from the 50’s up to the 70’s was a boom period for British  seaside resorts in the UK and there are many photos of the Terraces with huge crowds  watching events along Madeira Drive.

Up to the 1990’s the Terraces were looked after by the council’s in house structural engineers. Annual inspections were carried out and many parts of the Terraces were repaired or replaced with new sections. Some replacement cast iron columns were even recast at the historic Every’s Foundry in Lewes in the 1950’s and at one stage the deck was replaced over 9 bays with many new beams. The regular painting also continued during this period. The council’s Structural Engineer’s had a detailed knowledge of the structure which enabled them to target the most critical areas on an annual basis.

The 1990’s saw the decline of staffing in local authorities following the budget cuts of the government  and as a consequence responsibility for the Terraces passed to local structural consulting engineers, Hemsley Orrell Partnership (HOP).  The budget cuts also meant that the annual painting of the Terraces ceased.

HOP carried out many inspections and reports and by 2010 had recommended replacement of many structural beams and partial deck replacement.

In 2012 the Construction Company Amey, an  international company with extensive interests in building and engineering was appointed to carry out an extensive survey of the Terraces. During the handover from HOP to Amey it was decided to check the strength of the terraces using Codes applicable to Bridge Construction – a more onerous assessment for strength.

The decking on two arches was removed during this period to assess the degree of corrosion in the decking structure. Predictions of localised failure were included in reports and as a consequence closure of the Terraces were implemented. The high Security fence was erected in 2014.

Mott MacDonald another international consulting company were appointed in 2016 to carry out further assessment of the structure.

In 2018 The Brighton Society joined with Nick Tyson, an architectural expert and owner of the Regency House in Hove, and the Regency Society to have discussions with a consultant and contractor who had worked on the restoration of many historic iron structures in the UK, including the Albert Memorial.   We arranged meetings with the council, including Nick Hibberd, the officer responsible for the proposed work on Madeira Terrace.  The one critical recommendation was that any successful restoration of an historic iron structure had to start with the early appointment of supervising engineer, specialist contractor and a foundry so that the condition of the structure could be assessed, methodology agreed, and detailed costs finalised.

It is very likely that many cast iron sections will need replacement and the process for successfully carrying out this work could be agreed.  Starting early and having an agreed relationship between the companies involved would mean that the quality of the restoration would be assured. The overall cost for the contract would be much less than appointing expensive consultants who would delegate the work, resulting in greater costs. Such delegation to sub-contractors would result in a poor control over quality.

Even finding a suitable foundry in the UK would  be difficult.  Foundries specialising in architectural iron work are few and far between and those that are operating are extremely busy.  Casting replacement cast iron parts for the Terrace would need to be of the highest quality – a process that requires a skill which will not be easy to find.

The restoration experts gave their time free of charge and attended many meetings and offered to advise the council on the best way forward.  Unfortunately looking back now all this effort was a waste of time , the council ignored the advice we tried to provide and went their own way.

The council has appointed many consultants covering areas such as for the repairs to the structure, architecture, business and restoration of the Green Wall. So the advice we tried to give seems to have been ignored. Interestingly the cost consultant also recommended an early appointment of a contractor to ensure an accurate estimate of costs, but this suggestion was not taken up.

In 2022, leader of the Green council, stated that the  project was “complex” with a “wide range of issues and challenges” which needed to be resolved and that the correct contractors and professionals had to be  engaged to progress the project and to ensure the project progressed effectively”. Due to the structure’s Grade II* listing, the development required contractors with “specialist skills” to carry out the work. 

It is therefore utterly frustrating and disappointing to realise that all the work and advice that we provided in 2018 had been ignored.  The critical recommendation that a specialist consultant and contractor should be appointed at the beginning of the process and to be wary of appointing large non specialist consultants was ignored. The fees of the numerous consultants that have been appointed must be a significant drain on the finance of the project.

However The Green Party administration went ahead in preparing a Planning Application and Phase 1 of the restoration was granted in November 2022.  Since May 2023 decisions on Madeira Terrace have been taken by the Labour Party who now control the council. In September they decided that the restoration would be cut from 40 to 28 arches due to inflation and the Royal Crescent Steps would no longer be part of the first phase of restoration. 

As well as restoring 28 arches between the Royal Crescent steps and Concorde 2, Phase 1 is scheduled to include:

  • a new lift – a key component for the scheme that will ensure access for all
  • a full replacement of the upper deck with a waterproofed deck infrastructure for canopies / shades and for pop-up events
  • painting with a system guaranteed to perform better in coastal conditions than traditional materials available to the Victorians
  • refacing and regreening the Green Wall where possible.
  • a new staircase down from the deck next to Concorde 2 / Shelter Hall
  • reinstatement of the planted verges at Madeira Drive level
  • a more pedestrian friendly layout in front of the Terrace – providing beach access for all
  • seating to the upper and lower decks supporting people to sit and enjoy the views

But it has to be remembered that this is only a start. The application includes the statement “restoration of the remaining 120 arches will be delivered as funding becomes available”. And there has to be a question mark hanging over the restoration cost of the 28 arches. Finance for the restoration was agreed by the council in 2021.  Since that decision some very expensive items such as the new lift have now been included so there may be an element of optimism that there will be sufficient funding for the restoration.

Disappointingly the application provides few details as to how the ironwork is to be restored. The process of dismantling the terrace followed by grit blasting the surfaces, repair, painting and re-erection should have been detailed at this stage as this will be a very expensive process.  Will this work be carried out on site, or will elements be sent away for cleaning and repair?  The cost will be very dependent on these decisions, and the absence of such details just adds to the doubts concerning financing.

The prediction that repairs would start in Spring 2024 has now been postponed to Summer  2024 but with the hope that the restored arches will be open in summer 2026.

The Brighton Society has now been writing reports on the proposals for restoring Madeira Terrace for well over 15 years and sadly even now it does not appear to be certain that the current proposals will go ahead. And one of the major frustrations for us all is that the restoration could have started long ago during the low inflation period 10 years ago.  Now any construction faces high inflation with particular difficulties for the construction industry.  Madeira Terrace is so historic, the largest cast iron structure in the UK, and so important for the image of Brighton. But will we ever see the 150 arches restored?


5 thoughts on “Madeira Terrace – a diminishing future?

  1. The council / government need to fix basic services before even considering wasting a penny on this money pit, especially during a recession.

    Alternatively, the council needs to find a self funding commercial route (hotel / box park) though I imagine the heritage groups will scream and shout about this, likely make it unviable and then complain when they are subsequently remain unrepaired due to the reality that the money doesn’t exist for vanity projects which make no return and require extensive (as you described in your article) upkeep!

  2. Hove seafront is unfortunately going the same way. Unpainted, rusted and corroded railings, some actually fallen off so dangerous, rusted benches and shelters. Wooden bench shelters broken. No Maintenance programme in hand as no money.
    Yet Vanity projects go ahead.

  3. So sad the council has not just let this happen they have actively led to this happening. Historical and cultural loss , let alone loss in tourism long term through blatant neglect and stalling.
    Brighton council you should be ashamed, and held financially liable

  4. There is already a fundraining page on facebook – Save Madeira Terraces. They collect and sell things to go to the fund, which is not controlled by the council, they have raised quite a lot of money. They have had raffles in the past as well. If you care about the terraces please support them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *