On Wednesday 7 November, the Regency Society organised an event on the condition of the Madeira Arches, how the problem has become so serious and what now needs to be done. As important, the future and how the arches might be when they have been restored.

Around a hundred people attended the event, members of the Regency Society and open to anyone interested in this important heritage issue and restoration project for Brighton.

The event was chaired by Alasdair Glass, Regency Society trustee and conservation architect. Alasdair introduced the three speakers, Malcolm Dawes opening, a retired engineer and Programme co-ordinator of the Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society. Malcolm set the scene, explaining construction of the 151 arches was between 1890 and 1897, creating a grandstand over 800 metres in length as a wonderful addition to Brighton’s seafront. He proved a mine of information, having read over 2000 pages of the 15 reports dating from 1977 through 2016, commissioned by the council, covering the sad deterioration of the arches throughout the period.

The second speaker, Ed Morton, is managing director of the Morton Partnership, a firm of Consulting Structural Engineers recognised for innovative low intervention and cost effective solutions on buildings including Canterbury Cathedral, St George’s Hall, Liverpool and the Mansion House, London. Ed explained how a conservation led appraisal and assessment would be helpful to understand the current state of the arches and options available. He used by example, the approach his firm is undertaking on the roofs of the Palace of Westminster, explaining parallels in construction and use of comparable materials with the Madeira Arches, notably cast iron.

Ed interestingly made the point, with the significance of the Madeira Arches, should consideration be given to current the Grade II listed status and whether Grade II Star, may be more appropriate?

The final speaker was Nick Hibberd, Executive Director for Economy, Environment and Culture at Brighton & Hove City Council. He opened by referring to the successful Save Madeira Terraces campaign, which attracted over 2100 backers and raised over £465,000 through crowdfunding. The campaign proved the level of public interest in restoring the arches and in March 2018, Brighton & Hove City Council launched a £4.2 million Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid, which was sadly rejected. Undeterred, the Council has applied again. Nick assured the audience the Council is committed to progressing the restoration and the next step is likely to be restoring three arches, with a mix of public and private sector funding, the work planned to commence in spring 2019.

Alasdair Glass closed the meeting, summarising it as raising more questions than giving answers. The Regency Society contributed £10,000 to the Save Madeira Terraces campaign and there can be no doubting the audience’s passion for all 151 arches to be restored. It was recognised, however, in the event of further delay, it will become harder to sustain the current level of public interest.

Michael Bedingfield