Councillors have delayed a final decision on divisive plans for a large piece of public art on a hilltop in the Northumberland countryside.
Plans for the publicly-accessible landmark on the summit of Cold Law, north of the C195 road which links the A696 at Knowesgate with the A68 at Ridsdale, were submitted earlier this year.
Known as the Elizabeth Landmark and commissioned to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II and the Commonwealth, the application was recommended for approval at Tuesday’s (June 4) meeting of Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee.
After almost two hours of debate, a motion to approve the proposal was voted down by eight votes to six, before a motion to defer the decision so that members could go on a site visit was passed by 12 to two.
This caused confusion among those in attendance, who thought that the monument had been turned down. However, as is always the case with planning decisions, a separate motion to refuse, with valid planning reasons, would have been required to reject the application.
Set to be almost three times the height of the Angel of the North (which is 20 metres high and 54 metres wide), the idea for the £1million, 56-metre structure was first revealed last May by Lord Devonport, or Terence Kearley, 3rd Viscount Devonport, a philanthropist and retired architect who regenerated the Ray estate.
The design – Ascendant, by Simon Hitchens, which was selected from a choice of three last August – is described as ‘a thin slice cut north to south through the uppermost bedrock of Cold Law, tilted and elevated at the north end so that it points to the sun at its zenith on Midsummer’s Day’.
The aim is to provide a new cultural tourism destination, with a viewing area, small car park and pathways accessible to walkers and cyclists as well as motorists.
There will be no toilets, visitor centre or amenities, but signage will direct visitors to facilities, including pubs and shops, in Ridsdale, West Woodburn, Sweet Hope Loughs, Knowesgate and Kirkwhelpington.
Planning officers felt that the ‘wider public benefits of a major new landmark public art feature’ and the tourism opportunities outweighed any negatives, but not all locals shared this view, with objections from 29 residents plus Corsenside Parish Council.
At the meeting, objector Anne Palmer said: “Something which will dominate the landscape so completely should have the blessing of local people.
“To say it is out of keeping is an understatement.”
The local ward member, Coun John Riddle, also raised concerns, describing it as an ‘alien, industrial structure being imposed on the wild and wonderful Wannies’.
In relation to it being a tribute to the Queen, he added: “As this is known locally as Tit Hill, I don’t think this is an appropriate location in the first place.”
But one of the applicant’s representatives, who worked on other public art features such as the Angel of the North, The Couple at Newbiggin and Northumberlandia, said: “All of these projects cause concern, but we have to do things that are different and that are inspiring.”
He reminded the meeting of the unpopularity of the Angel at first and how it has become a national landmark.
Councillors on the committee took on board all of these points, as well as the answers to numerous questions that they asked of officers, but were still divided as to whether the benefits of the scheme outweighed the harm.
Moving approval, Coun Trevor Thorne said: “I think it will become a tourism asset, I think it will help our campaign Discover Our Land and I think it will bring tourists into a beautiful area that they haven’t been to before.”
Coun Jeff Reid said: “I quite like the idea of this structure in the landscape, I like the idea of people seeing it, saying I wonder what that is and trying to find it or walking in the hills and seeing it.
“I like the idea, but where it is, I really don’t know. I’m not sure the parking’s right and the road to get there is right. If it’s a success, it’s going to be a right pain.”
Coun Malcolm Robinson was of the same opinion, saying that he would ‘support it in 100 different places, but not here’, while Coun Ian Swithenbank warned about damaging what tourists and visitors find special about Northumberland – the empty, unspoiled landscape.
However, Coun Robbie Moore said that he was not going to sit on the fence and declared that he loves it. “It will enhance the area by offering something slightly different,” he added.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service