Selma Montford steps down

Selma Montford steps down

I am reluctantly stepping down as Hon Secretary of the Brighton Society which I have enjoyed and toiled over for more than 40 years. I have learned so much, about architecture, planning, local government, national government, how to appear at a public enquiry, how to cross examine etc over the years.

I shall endeavour to continue to be involved on the side lines, but I do not want to make a nuisance of myself to the newly appointed Brighton Society officers, many of whom are much more competent and knowledgeable than I am.

I think that one of my greatest achievements was to save Brighton Station from demolition. In the 1970s the Save Brighton Station group and the Preston Society (the fore runner of the Brighton Society) “Their resolute action resulted in the station being listed in 1973 and its protection against demolition.”

I am getting on in years and am less mobile so I find it difficult to visit sites and go to meetings on cold dark winter evenings.

I will however continue to write to the Argus which I see as a challenge writing for their letters page about complicated planning issues in simple prose.

The current state of developments in the city
I despair. The problem is that building land is expensive, owners require a substantial profit on their development but have had to pay substantial sums for the site.

Take the King Alfred site. The council will want the housing development, which they require on the site, and also the funds for their required sports facilities. This means that it is thought that the flats development will have to be tall. Actually it doesn’t mean that. I do not suppose that they realise that it is possible to design high density, low-rise, or medium rise, housing schemes.

The Hanover area of Brighton is low rise, but high density. The tall buildings on Albion Hill, which replaced low-rise terraced housing, did not provide any more accommodation. What is more the flats were intended for families with children, but they are now considered to be unsuitable for children.

Take the Anston House scheme in Preston Road. The ugly old building has lain derelict for 8 years of more. First Base proposes 3 tall buildings plonked down in what appears to be a haphazard way.

Did they think about recreating buildings like the terraces of the squares on the seafront, like Brunswick Square? Not an imitation, but a medium rise with a substantial space in the Square.

Sadly too many architects think they need to show off with their schemes in order to get them written up and photographed in the architectural magazines so they can win more commissions.

The Moshimo proposed for Bartholomew Square is a case in point. The proposer (I cannot call him a designer) is just showing off in order to get publicity and has produced the ugliest construction I have ever seen. The Old Town, a Conservation Area, deserves much better.

There are a couple of new buildings in Richmond Terrace (one of which is the University of Brighton’s library) are modern but take their place comfortably between the older buildings. The same applies to a block of flats in York Place.

I liked the old American Express building in Edwards Street now being demolished. What a waste! It could easily have been converted into starter workshops. Actually I quite like the new glass box, which is now American Express. I like the Carlton Hill School opposite.

I liked the old Art School in Grand Parade, but I also think the new one works well in its place. A group of small Georgian houses run south down Grand Parade. Although they have been gutted their frontages are unspoilt. I worked here for 14 years as Director of the Lewis Cohen Urban Studies Centre.

I have campaigned against proposals for black buildings in Brighton & Hove (much beloved by some architects), these are inappropriate in Brighton which is not a sombre place, it is a sparkling city.

Architects should be careful about ‘thinking outside the box’, whatever that means. I think it means he/she will promote what ever he/she likes, be it inappropriate for the site or the neighbouring buildings.

Please do not think that I am anti-architect, I wish I had been one myself!

But I am opposed to architects, planners and local councillors who are not competent to make a visual judgement of a scheme are in fact making visual judgements.

In a city like Brighton & Hove we are not starting with a clean slate. This is a challenge, which any designer worth his/her salt would welcome. The same applies to the Anston House site where the development overlooks and overshadows the listed Preston Park. Once again these tall buildings are unsuitable for families with children as well as hemming in the Preston Park boundary.

The majority of families in desperate need of accommodation are mothers with children on the housing waiting list who are unlikely to receive enough rent income to cover the cost of one of these flats.

So who are these flats intended for? Who are the flats now being built around he Marina intended for? Certainly not for families with children.

What do I think the city will look like here in 50 years time? Well I won’t be here to see it. I’ll be dreaming about walking along Snakey Lane crossing Wayland Avenue, trying to avoid the cars as they whiz round the corner so that I can walk in Withdean Woods.

This reminds me I must write to the Council to ask them to paint in large white letters SLOW on the tarmac to make it safer to cross the road for those that follow me.

Selma Montford

IMAGE CREDIT: NORTH LAINE COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION: “I’m glad to say there was quite a throng at the launch of the North Laine Book. Five years in the making, this collaborative effort by many residents and long-term lovers of the North Laine, is a story well worth telling. I was very pleased to meet many of the contributors including Selma Montford who had the initial idea for the book. Published by Brighton Town Press. Available from City Books and other outlets”.—Councillor Pete West Mayor of Brighton, 16 September 2016