Thursday, 24 September 2020

Bridge lighting plan resurrected by new team with architect

Bridge lighting plan resurrected by new team with architect

PLANS to attach lights to Henley Bridge could be revived.

David Rodger-Sharp, who runs the jeweller’s shop in Duke Street, Henley, is considering making a third attempt to obtain planning permission.

This follows two failed bids by Henley artist and entrepreneur Clive Hemsley, who announced last month that he was giving up on the scheme.

He removed most of the two strings of unauthorised white LED lights that he glued to the bridge in 2018 and plans to strip off the rest as soon as he has access to a boat.

Wokingham Borough Council and South Oxfordshire District Council, the two planning authorities responsible for the Grade I listed crossing, said Mr Hemsley had failed to prove his proposal wouldn’t damage the 18th-century stonework and that it wouldn’t “conserve or enhance” the bridge.

Mr Rodger-Sharp, who submitted the second application jointly with Mr Hemsley, hopes to come up with something which will satisfy the authorities as well as the residents and civic groups which objected.

He is working with Henley architect Gavin Jackson and marketing consultant Daniel Bausor, from Bix, to explore options and obtain quotes. Both men also advised Mr Hemsley.

Mr Rodger-Sharp, of Reading Road, Henley, says he would hold a public meeting before submitting a third application.

He believes the idea is still popular as 2,700 people signed a petition to keep Mr Hemsley’s lights after Oxfordshire County Council, the bridge’s owner, ordered him to take them down in 2018.

Mr Rodger-Sharp says he also wants to speak to those who were against the idea to understand their concerns and persuade them that the town would benefit.

He would prefer to stick lights to the bridge rather than lighting it from the banks with floodlights as some town councillors have suggested.

This would be achieved using an adhesive which he says would be invisible and wouldn’t harm the stonework.

Mr Rodger-Sharp said: “I completely understand why Clive decided he’d had enough but since we’ve taken it this far we would like to explore the possibility of continuing.

“We’ve invested a lot of time and 2,700 people have said they really want it. The biggest question is funding as Clive was very generously going to pay himself but now we’d like to see if we can get a proper quote and begin some kind of fundraising.

“It’s at a very early stage and we’re consulting an expert who can advise, among other things, on whether it’s even realistic.

“We recognise that some people don’t support it but we hope we can bring them round with a different design and some better lights. The county council’s engineer has already confirmed that it can be done with no damage to the stone so we need to communicate that.

“Any design would have to be environmentally friendly and sympathetic to the setting. We don’t want it to look like Las Vegas with lots of changing colours, as some people have suggested, it’s about enhancing a beautiful structure without fundamentally changing it.

“Clive fixed the first set of lights with tape but they were never meant to be permanent and I think some people got the wrong idea about how the final scheme was going to look.

“We could appeal the rejected application but it’s more likely that we’ll submit a new one.

“We could also work with the town council as they’re looking at lighting around Henley more generally.”

Mr Bausor, chairman of Henley Conservatives, has previously worked with lighting contractors for the Illuminated River art project in which 15 bridges in London are to be lit up by 2022.

Four have been lit up so far and Mr Bausor says this has attracted more visitors to the surrounding areas, boosting trade for local businesses.

He said the Henley scheme could follow the project’s funding model in which it sought support from individuals and organisations in both the private and public sector.

Mr Bausor said: “Even before this year’s pandemic, online trade was increasing while bricks and mortar shopping has been in decline.

“I believe that every town will need to offer a unique experience if it is to continue attracting visitors and Henley can’t afford to rest on its laurels.

“Lighting up the bridge in a subtle and environmentally sustainable way could be one solution to the challenges posed by the economy. The whole community needs to come together around it.

“We would, of course, need to observe due diligence around this listed structure but a precedent has been set in London and there has also been overwhelming public support for the idea in Henley.

“I understand that people want to respect the bridge’s historic character and agree that it needs to be carried out sensitively.”

Mr Jackson, of Ravenscroft Road, Henley, said: “It’s a brilliant idea and I’m very keen to move it forward. I only got involved towards the end of the previous application so I couldn’t really offer guidance.

“I will be able to take a more active role in future and I have a few ideas which will be announced when we’ve had the opportunity to discuss them.”

Mr Hemsley, of Hart Street, said he was tired of hearing criticism of his proposal and claimed he had been “defeated by Luddites”.

The Henley Archaeological and Historical Group was against the scheme while Historic England also requested more proof that the glue was safe.

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