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The recent decision to refuse permission for a controversial statue, commemorating the 19th century Guildford’s Guy riots, might not, after all, be the end of the matter.
It is understood that sponsors Electronic Arts, the computer gaming company, as well as supporters of the design will now seek other possible sites for the sculpture.
It is also suspected that David Hill, the Chief Executive at GBC, gave tacit encouragement to such a move after he was seen apparently consoling sculptress, Theresa Smith, following the council refusal vote which, with only most Liberal Democrats voting in favour of the application, followed party lines.
Central to Guildford Borough Council’s refusal decision was the police view. They had said that the design of the statue, depicting a bonfire surmounted by a chair, coupled with the proposed siting on a roundabout near Bridge Street, the centre for Guildford night life, carried particular risks to law and order and public safety. The site, at the end of Onslow Street, was also right opposite Guildford Police Station.
The police and several councillors felt that there was a strong likelihood that revellers would want to climb the edifice and perhaps try and sit in the chair atop the statue.
Proposed changes to the original design, that would make it difficult or impossible to climb the structure, were not submitted in time to be considered at the meeting of the full council on April 5.
Although many views were expressed about the merits of the design and of commemorating, what some said was, a shameful part of Guildford’s history, GBC planners have verified that neither those views, nor any aesthetically based judgements, even if based on public opinion, would be sufficient grounds for refusing a planning application.
Theresa Smith, the sculptress and designer, confirming that other sites will be sought, said: “For me when selecting a site, there has to be a reason for the bonfire statue to be there. We hope to look around Guildford and explore possibilities. I have already been given suggestions such as Stoke Park, where today’s bonfires are held, as well as apiece of land off The Mount.
“I have found people very positive about the idea when I have explained the background and they realise it is about a town in celebration, the triumph of law and order over criminal behaviour and the birth of modern Guildford.”
Councillor Angela Gunning (Lab Stoke) who spoke against the statue in recent debates, said: “My suggestion for a location for the sculpture is on St Catherine’s Hill. Such a huge piece of work needs a skyline to show off its lines and for the public to appreciate its form. There, it would be possible to walk all round it. There is space to erect an appreciation board to say something about the sculptor, and to explain the controversial history of the riots.”
Guildford Alderman Gordon Bridger remains unconvinced: “There would still be a great deal of opposition to the theme of the statue, wherever it was sited, as it celebrates or recognises the Guy Riots. Secondly the mysterious chair which crowns it would be a temptation to anyone, inebriated or or not, to use it.
Don’t forget, a video of Theresa Smith talking about the sculpture and its design can be found in the media gallery in the right hand column.
The Guildford Dragon Says: What are your views? Should a new site be found for this sculpture or do you think it is undesirable wherever it might be located? Please let us know by email to be published as a reader’s letter or by commenting below using the ‘Leave a Reply’ feature.