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Monster or spaceship? Brighton's 'vertical pier' to give a lift to tourism

Published 02/08/2016

Workmen fitting the glass viewing pod to Brighton's British Airways i360
Workmen fitting the glass viewing pod to Brighton's British Airways i360

A "vertical pier in the sky" is set to give tourists a new view of Brighton's historic seafront on the site where one of its most famous attractions was built 150 years ago.

Standing at 531ft (156 metres) tall, the British Airways i360 viewing tower affords panoramic views of up to 26 miles of the surrounding south coast and will open its doors to visitors this week.

The futuristic-looking structure is the world's tallest moving observation tower and stands where the Grade One-listed West Pier, built in 1866, joined the seafront promenade before it burnt down in 2003.

Visitors will be sent skyward from the street in a curved-glass pod which can hold up to 200 people, before they come to stop at 450ft (137m).

At its peak, the 360-degree pod will look out to as far as Bexhill in East Sussex to Chichester in west Sussex and towards the South Downs to the north.

The project was spearheaded by the minds behind the London Eye and has been 12 years in the making, costing an estimated £46 million.

It is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the area and is part of a push to regenerate the coastline area in the west of the city.

Architect David Marks said: "British Airways i360 cannot replace the much-loved and much-missed West Pier, but it can offer a modern-day alternative - one whose purpose, like the West Pier, is simply to delight, entertain and inspire.

"Just as the original West Pier invited Victorian society to walk on water, visitors are invited again to gain a new perspective on the city and its setting between the land and the sea, to walk on air."

Glynn Jones, chairman of the West Pier Trust, said the "vertical pier in the sky" showed that "the city is, once again, embracing and celebrating world-class, stunning architecture".

The 20-minute "flights", which will be open to the public on Thursday, costs from £13.50 for adults and £6.75 for children over four - and tickets can be bought from booths restored to look identical to the ones that stood alongside the old West Pier.

The tower is built of 17 steel cans weighing approximately 900 tonnes which have been attached together, while the visitor pod is crafted from 24 segments of handmade glass from Italy.

But the arrival of the i360 has divided opinion along the south coast, with a petition calling on the council to scrap the project attracting more than 1,000 signatures several years ago.

Valerie Paynter, of the saveHove campaign, said the tower was a "total monster, like something springing horribly out of the earth in a horror movie".

Chief executive of the i360 Eleanor Harris said the criticisms were to be expected whenever new architecture arrives in a city.

She told the Press Association: "I expect people would have said the exact same thing when the (Brighton) Pavilion was first built and the piers were first built, when you're bringing bold new architecture into the city it takes people a little while to get used to it.

"I think people will really fall in love with this spaceship, when they see the lighting on this it will become the icon for the city."

Emilio Savvides, 62, who runs popular seafront restaurant Regency directly opposite the i360, said the arrival of the tower will bring a much-needed tourism boost to the quieter side of Brighton's coast.

He said: "I think this particular site has been derelict for a long time, since the pier came down.

"It's been looking really like a building site with boarding up and everything, just waiting for someone to come along and invest in it.

"Finally after 40 years we have a new attraction which, in a way, will regenerate this particular side of Brighton - this area has been neglected for a long time."

Rain and low-hanging fog swept across the city on the day that organisers invited the media down to view the latest addition to Brighton's seafront.

Visibility from the top of the i360 was limited to only a few miles, with much of the city and most of Hove obscured by the elements.

Ms Harris said it was a "slightly misty, drizzly day, but on a clear day you can see way along the beach and the beautiful chalk coastline".

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