On the crest of a wave

Brighton's cosmopolitan centre is drawing increasing numbers of celebrities, media types and culture vultures. But the city still offers great value for money, discovers Lucie Greene
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The Independent Online

Brighton, with its cosmopolitan culture and easy London commute, has always attracted young professionals. Today, it's receiving lots more attention as A-list celebrities (in the shape of Cate Blanchett, Paul McCartney and Brad Pitt) flock to buy property, and boutique hotels, chic bars and independent designer retailers spring up.

Brighton, with its cosmopolitan culture and easy London commute, has always attracted young professionals. Today, it's receiving lots more attention as A-list celebrities (in the shape of Cate Blanchett, Paul McCartney and Brad Pitt) flock to buy property, and boutique hotels, chic bars and independent designer retailers spring up.

The city council has ploughed £42m into various regeneration projects, improving the marina and train station, and also creating a state-of-the art sports centre and innovative city library in the heart of the cultural quarter.

What are most exciting, however, are the planned developments. A multimillion-pound private members' club will expand the existing media industry; Sir Terence Conran is restoring a Grade II-listed Art Deco apartment building; and the architect Frank Gehry is designing a £25m, mixed-use residential and leisure facility in Hove. The latter project alone is expected to add 750,000 more visitors and a further £24m to the local economy.

Despite all the hype, Brighton estate agent Glenn Mishon argues that property prices are relatively stable. He maintains that it is still a buyers' market. "People are looking to invest in Brighton because you get a fair bit more for your money, and also it's so accessible. Gatwick is 20 minutes away and London's an hour. You just get a totally different way of life down here. They call it 'London by the Sea' and it really is." And the celebrities? "Paul McCartney walks along the promenade," Mishon says. "We see him shopping in the Laines without being bothered. Celebrities obviously feel relaxed here."

It's not just celebrities who love Brighton. Media and creative types constitute 25 per cent of the wage-earning population. The former Sony Music executive Tony Martin, a local resident, decided to create The Media Pool, a lavish private member's club due to open this summer, to cater to them.

"I've been in Brighton for five years and noticed that there were a huge number of people in that sector working here, but without a gathering point. There was a real gap in the market for a place with very high levels of service, great food, great drink, and great technical facilities, and that's what we're trying to create," says Martin.

A number of residential and mixed-use projects are also planned. One is Embassy Court, an Art Deco seafront set of apartments designed by the Canadian architect Wells Coates in 1935, currently undergoing a £4.2m restoration by Conran and Partners. There were no grants available, so leaseholders have funded the entire cost of the project - though not entirely for altruistic reasons. Even prior to completion the apartments had risen 20 per cent in value, and the corner penthouse - sold just before restoration for £175,000 - is expected to more than double in value.

Perhaps the most large-scale development, though, is the King Alfred project at Hove. Gehry, the designer of the famous Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, has been selected to create a mixed-use residential and leisure facility on the site of the existing 70-year-old sports centre. It's a £25m venture, with 40 per cent of the residential space guaranteed to be affordable housing. Originally, a series of high-rise futuristic towers were proposed, but after some controversy, plans have been reviewed. The formal designs are to be submitted in July this year.

Tony Miller, the director of cultural services at Brighton and Hove, comments: "There has been some local opposition, largely around the original suggestions for high towers. But if we can succeed in turning an old swimming pool into a state-of-the-art sports centre, with a set of buildings designed by one of the world's greatest architects and public spaces including work by Antony Gormley - all at little cost to local taxpayers - then I think that will be some achievement. Brighton is a special place that is poised to take the next leap forward. We want the city to be one of the most successful in Europe."

For more information on property in the city and the featured projects: www.embassycourt.co.uk; www.mishon mackay.co.uk; www.themediapool.com

Hot stuff on the sea front

Celebrity residents: Cate Blanchett, Paul and Heather McCartney, Norman Cook and Zoë Ball, Steve Coogan, Chris Eubank, Nick Cave

Other househunters: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Keira Knightley

Restaurants, clubs and hotels: One Paston Place (Francesco Furriello's fine diner), Blanch House (stylish hotel with great cocktails), NeoHotel (boutique hotel in a Grade II-listed townhouse), Nia Café (quality coffee and delicious desserts), Due South (fresh organic food), Audio (award-winning establishment with sea views), The Ocean Rooms (one of Brighton's best clubs) and Koba (private members' bar)

Shops to drop for: Gresham Blake (bespoke tailoring); Jeremy Hoye (acclaimed jewellery designer), The Treatment Rooms (Brighton's best centre for total relaxation)

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