Celeb boom edges out Brighton's artists

Priced out » The resort's 'cool factor' and luxury developments attract the rich and famous – at the expense of its creative spirit
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The Independent Online

A "celebrity-led" property boom is threatening the survival of one of Britain's most vibrant artistic communities by forcing the mass closure of vital studios and workshops.

A "celebrity-led" property boom is threatening the survival of one of Britain's most vibrant artistic communities by forcing the mass closure of vital studios and workshops.

Developers in Brighton and Hove are engaged in a frantic scramble for land that has seen some of the city's prime creative spaces sold off for conversion into luxury homes. The closures have led to waiting lists of up to six years for the handful of remaining art studios, and an exodus of artists and craftsmen to other towns on the south coast.

Estate agents have attributed the surge in demand for property to the domino effect of the London housing boom, and the resort's desirability as a weekend destination for professionals in the capital. Others have blamed Brighton's eagerness to portray itself as a "celebrity city", an image trumpeted in its promotional literature, and backed up by the flood of showbusiness stars who buy homes there.

The actress Cate Blanchett, Spice Girl Emma Bunton and the comedian Steve Coogan, have all moved to the resort, while Sir Paul McCartney reportedly bought a seafront house. David and Victoria Beckham, Naomi Campbell, Kylie Minogue and Noel Gallagher, are all said to be interested in properties around the resort.

The past three years have also seen celebrity endorsement from actors Nick Berry and Stephen Tompkinson, former Neighbours star Mark Little, and Zoë Ball, who provides the voiceover for the video being used to promote the city's bid to become the next European Capital of Culture. Other notable residents include the writer Julie Burchill, the actress Dora Bryan, and the former world champion boxer Chris Eubank, who encountered local derision several years ago by buying the title "Lord of the Manor of Brighton".

Encouraged by the buoyancy of the luxury housing market, developers have been eager to buy up buildings that, until recently, have been local eyesores. The latest large project is a complex of 61 leasehold apartments designed by Sir Terence Conran, which range in price from £125,000 for a basic studio to £340,000 for a two-bedroom penthouse. All but four of the flats have been reserved, 25 or more of them by "out-of-towners" looking for second homes.

As a condition of its conversion, Brighton and Hove Council has insisted that the building, which used to house the The Argus newspaper, is equipped with a handful of "artisan studios". But most other re-developments have not been so sensitive. Red Herring, one of the city's longest-running artistic collectives, was forced out of its long-time home, which was sold for conversion into flats.

The only major survivor is The Phoenix Arts Association, a co-operative that owns its own building, but it is now heaving under the weight of demand from "refugee" artists from elsewhere.

Phoenix membership co-ordinator Lucy Greenaway believes the property boom is sucking the life out of an artistic community that has turned the Brighton Festival into the UK's second biggest annual arts showcase, after Edinburgh. "One of the main reasons why people like Brighton so much is for its artists, but it's getting to the stage where they are being pushed out. We have people saying, 'help, we're desperate, we've lost our space and we don't have anywhere to go now'. Our waiting list for studios is now hovering between five and six years."

It is not only estate agents who have profited. Over the past year, Latest Homes, a free property magazine, has been quietly evolving into a full-blown celebrity glossy. Editor Bill Smith said: "One of the sections of our magazine is called 'Celeb City' – no accident, Brighton has become the celebrity capital of Britain. What's happening here is similar to what happened in Notting Hill. Brighton has that indefinable 'cool factor'."