Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Bridge blackout


AN artist who wanted to attach lights on to Henley Bridge permanently says he may now scrap the project after permission was turned down.

Clive Hemsley will now remove strings of LED fairy lights which he had installed on the Grade I listed structure without permission last year.

He had applied to Wokingham Borough Council for listed building consent to be able to drill into the mortar to fix the lights to the five arches.

More than 2,000 people signed an online petition to keep the lights in place and Oxfordshire County Council, which owns the bridge, supported the proposal.

But the borough council rejected the application, saying it presented “potential harm” to the bridge.

The planning authority also said insufficient information had been provided as to the details of the work to be carried out.

It said: “There is no clear and convincing justification for any potential harm and it is not clear that the proposal would conserve or enhance the character and special architectural interest of the bridge or surrounding conservation area.”

Mr Hemsley, who lives in Hart Street, has accused the council of burying its head in the sand. He said: “I asked them [the council] several times what other information they needed. I had the bridge surveyed and the drawings were the first drawings to be updated in 250 years. I told them if they needed anything they could come back to me.

“They have just buried their heads in the sand and turned it down. The county council are for it and they are the owners of the bridge. I am bewildered.”

Mr Hemsley, who had hoped to have the project completed in time for Christmas, said he was not considering an appeal or resubmitting the application.

He added: “I will definitely have to take a step back and think about the whole thing. It is disappointing.”

The county council was originally due to remove the lights during a routine inspection last November but it changed its mind when Mr Hemsley told the authority there was widespread support for them and lights had been installed on other bridges around the country.

But residents, councillors and historical groups say the bridge lights should be removed.

Both Historic England and Henley Archaeological & Historical Group were against the application.

John Whiting, chair of the historical group, said: “The integrity of the bridge has stood the test of time, witness to the volume and weight it currently handles; drilling many holes in it will have a serious long-term detrimental effect overall to its character.

“This short-term gain, introducing an alien material into the mortar, will cause huge long-term damage and maintenance problems.”

Richard Peats, an inspector of historic buildings and areas for Historic England, added: “There is no justification for this. There is no need to light the bridge and there are other methods of doing it, such as using a wash of light from spotlights mounted on the bank, which may be more sympathetic to its architectural value.”

The district council also objected to the application on the basis of heritage concerns.

A spokeswoman said: “In the absence of any positive information in respect of the impacts, the proposal is likely to harm the significance of the Grade I listed bridge by means of the fixings and by means of introducing a modern alteration that detracts from its historic character.”

Town councillor Ian Reissman says the application was “out of keeping” with the area and the listed bridge.

He said: “The applicant has provided little or no evidence of the effect of the lights on the physical structure. The applicant has already damaged the bridge with his unlawful addition of lights to the bridge.

“His defence of this and failure to explain and consult with suitable experts provide no means to feel confident that the structural integrity of the bridge will be protected. Granting of permission in the absence of such evidence would be reckless.”

Gillian Ovey, of Rotherfield Greys, said she did not want the bridge to “emulate Blackpool”.

She said: “It is a listed building with a fascinating history and as such should not be vandalised in this manner. We should be mindful that our future planning policies seek to reduce light pollution, not add to it.”

Other residents described the lights as “garish” and David Feary, of Walton Avenue, Henley, felt Henley residents had not been properly consulted. He added: “Hanging gaudy lights on our most distinguished works of architecture demonstrates an absence of artistic taste and lack of aesthetic appreciation, lowers our standards and detracts from the structure of the bridge.”

David Smewing, of St Mark’s Road, Henley, said: “The application is not sustainable in that the LEDs will consume energy without the application identifying a sustainable source for that energy. The applicant claims in his statement that this is ‘aesthetic lighting’ — it is in fact kitsch, in a style that is crass.”

The bridge was opened in 1786 and first designated in 1951 for its special architectural and historic interest.

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