Major boost for i360 tower

Brighton’s planned tourism magnet, the 175-metre i360 viewing tower, could be back on track thanks to Government and council loans totalling £17m.

Work on the ambitious scheme could start within a year after the council gave the project it’s backing last night.

The council is now considering new loans to get the project, first approved in 2006, off the ground.

The new Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership has agreed a £3m loan to the project from its Growing Places Fund. The government set up the fund specifically to beat the credit crunch and overcome lack of confidence from investors.

However, having so far raised £18m of the required £35m, the tower’s developers Marks Barfield still needed a further £14m.

Brighton & Hove City Council is proposing to step in and kick-start the scheme, councillors planning to borrow the funding and use it to make a secured loan of £14m to the developers – the authority stressing “it has not suddenly found a new source of council funds”.

The original plans were submitted and approved by the council in 2006 and construction was expected to start in 2007.

The nation’s highest observation tower was conceived as an “enabling” project for the derelict West Pier, but has yet been unable to secure the money need to build it.

The council’s has now agreed in principle to look into the loan option. If it is judged viable, a final decision would be made in July.

If agreed, the project could be re-booted within two or three months and completed in two years.

Officials believe the risks will be relatively low while benefits could be huge. A completed tower would be expected to attract up to 800,000 visitors a year, spending upwards of £5m in the city and encouraging up to 18,000 more people to stay overnight.

It would create 154 jobs directly and up to 440 spin-off posts, the council says, boosting business in the area.

The council could also receive one per cent of ticket revenues plus interest on the loan, set to be repaid over 12 years.

Cllr Geoffrey Bowden, cabinet member for tourism, said: “This would be a business and regeneration proposal by the council, not an act of charity.

“We are proposing this because the project is at such an advanced stage and the developers already have 50 per cent of their funding in place.

“This project being at a standstill is costing the city at least £5m a year, blocking completion of seafront regeneration and preventing lots of other spin-off business taking place nearby.

“By making a loan we end those problems, boost public coffers by renting out nearby seafront arches, collect more in business rates, radically smarten the seafront and create hundreds of jobs.”

David Marks of Marks Barfield, who was also behind the London Eye said: “This is fantastic news.

“The £3 million loan from Coast to Capital and the backing from Brighton and Hove City Council, if agreed, will ‘unlock’ the project, which had stalled as a result of the reluctance of banks to lend in current market conditions.

“We are not looking for a subsidy or a grant, and we will not put any burden on the tax payer. I firmly believe our investment in the i360 will be the trigger for a lot more investment in the city, just as the London Eye was for the South Bank.

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