The Battle for Madeira Drive

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During lockdown, Brighton and Hove City Council decided to close Brighton’s historic Madeira Drive ‘temporarily’ in order to provide ‘more space to exercise.’ Two months later movement restrictions lifted and the traders were told by a visiting council officer that there was a plan to close the Drive permanently. No public notice. No public consultation.

115 years of celebrating motoring and motorcycling history gone. Just like that. 37 traders, some of whom had been trading for decades, facing the end.

Local Mod, Ollie Wilson, and his partner, who just happens to be our Hon Secretary Laura King, decided to start a council petition to re-open Madeira Drive to all users. They also began holding regular protests by Brighton Palace Pier, assembling mods and bikers and founded a facebook group Reopen Madeira Drive To All. They appeared on local radio and television and even made the national press.

Of particular concern to Brighton and Hove Heritage Commission is the risk that the closure of Madeira Drive puts to the restoration of Grade II listed Madeira Terrace, and just when enough money had finally been raised to commence work via a Crowdfunding campaign on the first thirty arches (out of 151). In fact the Commission itself made a donation and was anxious to hear of a start date for the works.

Behind the Terrace is the longest and oldest ‘Green Wall‘ in the country and one of the earliest known attempts to intentionally create the equivalent of a ‘hothouse’ in the open air to complement the sheltered walkway of Madeira Terrace, an eco innovation which has survived to this day and is an integral part of the Terrace.

The heritage of Madeira Drive has proved the ideal backdrop to heritage vehicle events such as The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run and other events celebrating bikes, scooters and vehicles which have long outlived their carbon construction footprint, and may indeed have something to teach the modern vehicles of today with their efficient and more repairable mechanisms. Madeira Drive has also been home to the speed trials since 1905. It is seldom used as a through road, but as a destination and a spiritual home where mods and bikers hang out together at weekends, patronising the local cafes as they keep an eye on their pride and joy bikes.

On a daily basis 393 parking spaces are now out of commission through the closure of Madeira Drive, and just after the council had agreed that all parking revenue from Madeira Drive could be ploughed into the restoration of Madeira Terrace (not just an integral part of the Drive but part of the structural support for Marine Parade above). Moreover the coach parking is currently suspended which affects the local hotel trade and the disabled and those with electric cars who cannot get to the Madeira Drive charging station are being discrimated against.

An opposing petition was started to try and keep Madeira Drive closed, but has so far reached less than a third of the more than 10,500 signatures collected so far on the Reopen Madeira Drive to All petition.

So what can YOU do to help?

  1. Please sign and share the petition here to reopen Madeira Drive if you have not already).
  2. Please take a few minutes to fill in the belated council consultation on Madeira Drive here.
  3. You are also welcome to join Reopen Madeira Drive To All  Facebook group here, now 1300 members strong.
  4. Come to next protest on Sunday 9th August – from 10am – Madeira Drive – photo shoot at 1pm. All welcome!

The petition was supposed to go before full council on 26th July, but regrettably owing to sudden change of leadership to the Greens, it will now be discussed on 13th August. Brighton and Hove City Council have however conceded that offical events can resume, though this decision comes too late for 2020 and does not take account of the smaller or unofficial events. Nor that the traders need trade year round and not just for offical events.

Now after two worrying fires in a week (one at Black Rock toilets and one actually under the Terrace in the old Reading Room) as inevitable dereliction of Madeira Drive takes hold, we hear worrying murmerings about the future of Madeira Drive having to be ‘re-thought’.

We would disagree. Madeira Drive has always had a clearly defined role and purposes in this city, which remain popular and money-spinning to this day, if allowed to continue. Madeira Drive doesn’t need ‘rethinking’. It just needs reopening. Before any more risk or damage to its heritage can occur.

Cyclists and walkers already have a wide expanse of dedicated space opposite and once Madeira Terrace is restored that will re-open a lot of additional pedestrian (and commercial) space currently locked within for safety reasons including a mid terrace walkway above the sheltered walkway. Interestingly daily photographs taken by members of Reopen Madeira Drive Facebook group are showing that Madeira Drive itself is scarcely being used by the cyclists and walkers it has been given over to, who tend to stick to their designated cycle path and wide pavement area.