A historic but forlorn stretch of Brighton seafront is set for a facelift thanks to a new 50-metre outdoor swimming pool, which is due to open in spring 2022.
Brighton and Hove city council gave the green light for the heated Olympic-size pool on Wednesday. It will be built on Madeira Drive, in Kemptown, not far from the historic Volk’s Electric Railway and a few minutes’ walk from Brighton’s Palace Pier.
For the past two summers, this stretch of pebble beach has been the site of a fitness-hub pop-up, operated by Sea Lanes, with an indoor endless-pool training facility – that allows swimming against an adjustable current – a beach cafe and bar, and converted horse-box saunas. Brighton-based adventure tour operator SwimTrek has been running guided open-water swims from the beach and the operator will base its headquarters at the new beachfront pool site.
The Grade II-listed Madeira Terrace, whose cast-iron seafront arches stretch from the Brighton aquarium colonnade to where the pool will be, was built as a covered promenade for tourists when the electric railway opened in 1883. Over the past decade its 151 arches have fallen into disrepair and the terrace was fenced off in 2016.
Sea Lanes Brighton, which will operate the new development, hopes that the pool and planned street food kiosks will reinvigorate the Kemptown seafront in the same way that the BA i360 attraction has revived the West Pier beachfront, in Hove, since it opened in 2016.
In February the council voted in favour of a budget amendment for an additional £3.65m cash injection for Madeira Terrace.
“As we understand it, the first phase of restoration, to restore 30 arches, will begin this October and we hope that the investment that we are making in this part of Brighton will shine a spotlight on it,” said Sea Lanes director Joe McNulty.
“Part of the Sea Lanes vision included working with British Swimming to become its first national centre for open-water swimming, alongside its centres for swimming at Bath and Loughborough Universities,” said McNulty. “The 50-metre pool is one of the key features and now we have a planning decision, we will be in a position to progress the conversation with British Swimming.”
According to a 2019 Swim England study, 7.5 million people in the UK swim outdoors. And many people have been turning to the water since lockdown began. Since the first lockdown, the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) has seen website traffic increase by 46% (785,000 visitors) and membership by 36%. Local wild swim groups report a 50-500% growth, with open-water lakes reporting up to a 1,000-fold increase in visitor numbers.
OSS founder Kate Rew said wild swimming had reached a tipping point. “With pools shut and people looking for outdoor exercise close to home, thousands of people have made this the time to embrace rivers, lakes and the sea.”
She added: “Brighton has a huge swimming culture and this new pool will help drive nationwide aquatics forward. There’s a world of difference between training in a 25m and 50m pool for recreational and competitive swimmers, and we have precious few of them in this country.”
Andy White, swim coach at the Sea Lanes’ endless pool, said the sea is a much-underused resource in the UK and that the planned new pool is a major step forward in terms of education.
“It will be a fantastic stepping stone for getting people into the sea,” he said.
A Swim England spokesperson said: “Swim England is supportive of efforts to increase the opportunities for people to access the water and enjoy all the benefits it provides. The new facility will be welcomed by the local community and beyond and be another attraction for the city.”