My parents are just in the process of moving from Brighton (well, Southwick actually) to Bournemouth and that has got me thinking again about which is the better town – Brighton & Hove, or Poole/Bournemouth? A report in the Bournemouth Echo has also got me thinking about this, as it raised the question of whether Poole and Bournemouth councils should merge. For me, the decision to merge Brighton and Hove into one city has given it a new vitality and sense of purpose, which is lacking in the unattractively named ‘SE Dorset Conurbation’ with its three separate authorities of Poole, Bournemouth and Christchurch.
The reality is that I love both places. I have lived in Brighton, and always enjoy going back there. It is a great town. But I also love living where I now do, in Poole. The two are obvious rivals though – south coast towns, competing in many of the same spheres, and with similar sized populations (Brighton & Hove 247,817; SE Dorset Conurbation 383,713). So how do they stack up?
Brighton wins this one, being home to two universities, Sussex and Brighton, whereas Bournemouth has just the one. Brighton’s also score slightly higher in the league tables. Both are great student towns though.
Sport & Leisure
Hove is home to Sussex County Cricket, which is a big plus. Brighton and Bournemouth currently occupy first and second place in football League One, and I would be delighted if both got promoted to the Championship next season. Since selling off the Goldstone ground the Seagulls haven’t had a decent stadium to play in, whereas the Cherries have a proper ground, and so win that one.
Away from cricket and football, Brighton has a racecourse, which Bournemouth doesn’t. Brighton staged a marathon this year, which has immediately become massive, but a representative from Bournemouth Council has told me that a similar event is in the planning stages for that town. Both have greyhound stadiums. Poole has speedway and cycle speedway. And Poole/Bournemouth definitely wins in terms of water sports – with Christchurch Harbour at one end and the massive Poole Harbour at the other Brighton falls a long way short in comparison.
So, overall its probably a slight win to Bournemouth/Poole in this category.
Bournemouth has a small airport, and it is only 40 minutes to Southampton airport. But Brighton has Gatwick airport on its doorstep and the commute time to London is half of that from Bournemouth. From Poole you can take a ferry to Cherbourg and be there in two and a quarter hours.
I like taking the ferry to France, but overall this one is a win for Brighton.
Culture & History
Brighton has a reputation as a very creative place, and has some great venues – the Dome, the Brighton Centre, the Theatre Royal, as well as many smaller gig venues. Bournemouth has the BIC, which gets pretty much the same line up of bands as the Brighton Centre, and the Pavilion, which fills the same niche in Bournemouth as the Dome and Theatre Royal do in Brighton. And then there is Poole Lighthouse, which is just a superb arts centre, and home to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra – something with which Brighton cannot compete. But then Brighton has its annual arts festival, with which Bournemouth cannot compete.
In terms of history, Brighton has its palace, and impressive seafront crescents, and the tourist trap of the Lanes. Bournemouth (well, Christchurch actually) has the Priory, and Poole has its old town. Brighton used to have two piers, but the best one has fallen into the sea. Bournemouth still has two functioning piers. Poole and Christchurch have a much longer history than the blousy upstart Brighton.
So overall I’d put that one as a draw.
Business & Industry
Brighton tends to lay claim to cosmetics firm The Body Shop, although it is actually based further along the coast in Littlehampton. Poole is home to Body Shop competitor Lush and surfwear brand Animal. Bournemouth probably beats Brighton in terms of big, multinational companies who have their out-of-London bases in the town, although some of these are threatening to pull out or (like Barclays) have dramatically reduced their staffing levels. Poole of course has Sunseeker, the luxury yacht builders.
A point to Poole/Bournemouth then.
Quality of Life
Now don’t get me wrong, I like Brighton seafront, but it doesn’t really bear comparison with Poole/Bournemouth’s seven mile long bay of golden sand. Brighton is backed by the glorious Sussex Downs. I love the Downs – I proposed to my wife on the Downs! But, again, they don’t quite measure up to what Poole/Bournemouth has to offer with the New Forest to the East and the Purbeck hills to the West.
Brighton’s traffic is worse.
Hove has its Lagoon, but Poole has its magnificent harbour. (A very unfair comparison that!)
A clear win for Poole/Bournemouth.
And the winner is…
On the basis of my arbitrary categories and point scoring, Poole/Bournemouth just pips Brighton & Hove to the post as winner of ‘best town’. However, as noted above, a significant difference is that Brighton & Hove now has an identity as one town. (I still can’t quite bring myself to think of it as a city.) In Poole-Bournemouth-Christchurch there is a strong parochial sense of each town being distinct from its neighbour, although a visitor would drive from East to West without realizing he was crossing any boundaries.
But there is at least one thing I can say without fear of contradiction – both Brighton/Hove and Poole/Bournemouth are infinitely superior to Portsmouth!