Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Bridge lights would attract visitors, says entrepreneur

Bridge lights would attract visitors, says entrepreneur

AN entrepreneur who wants to light up Henley Bridge permanently says it would attract more visitors to the town.

Clive Hemsley also criticised the town council for not saying whether it supported his plans or not.

He was speaking at a public meeting at the town hall which he called to gauge the amount of public support for the idea of having white LED lights attached to the 18th century bridge, which is Grade I listed.

About 60 people attended the meeting on Wednesday evening last week, which was chaired by Mayor Ken Arlett.

Mr Hemsley, who lives in Hart Street, attached strings of LED lights to either side of the bridge without permission in March 2018.

This sparked a public debate about the idea of illuminating the structure permanently before Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority which owns the bridge, ordered the lights to come down.

More than 2,400 people signed a petition calling for the lights to stay but heritage bodies and supporters opposed them.

The lights were eventually taken down in October. Mr Hemsley, an advertising agency owner and artist, was then refused planning permission by Wokingham Borough Council, which said his suggestion to drill into the mortar surrounding the five arches posed “potential harm” to the bridge. It also said there was no evidence that the lights would conserve or enhance the bridge’s architectural value.

Now Mr Hemsley says he has found a type of adhesive fixing that wouldn’t damage the stonework.

He told the meeting that he wanted to use LED mood lights, similar to those used to light up many London bridges. These would be attached with cable ties every metre and fastened with a silicon compound. Mr Hemsley says these are cheaper and more energy efficient than the type of lights used to illuminate buildings such as the town hall.

He would require the permission of both Wokingham council and South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authorities for each side of the Thames, but he has already gained the support of the county council and Henley MP John Howell.

Mr Hemsley said: “We have already tested the concept with LED pilot lights. I guarantee that zero screws or nails would be used and this very effective and very tidy method of fixing would result in zero damage in the short- or long-term life of the bridge.”

He said he would fund the project, which he estimated would cost “tens of thousands of pounds”, but needed someone with expertise to help him with the planning process.

“I would like a group application to go to all the councils and agencies,” he said. “I would like someone local, knowledgeable and familiar with planning who can process this new application quickly because it’s beyond me.

“I believe I represent most of the townsfolk who are for the lights. This project is about much more than just giving back to the town. We are a market town competing against other towns and cities for tourism. We want to increase footfall to support our local businesses.

“Of course we should be featuring the bridge and our other historic assets. We should be proud of our inheritance, so why are we not showing it off to the world?”

He said he would like to change the colour of the lights for special events such as Henley Royal Regatta or the Thames Traditional Boat Festival.

Mr Hemsley said the town council needed to make up its mind on the issue.

He said: “I am still bewildered that our town council has continued to sit on the fence.

“I say to the council ‘listen to the 2,400 locals who signed the petition 18 months ago’, not only for keeping the pilot lights but also who voted for you to work with us. If you can’t make a simple decision on this you shouldn’t be running the town. A ‘no’ is better than a nothing answer.

“We know and appreciate the unpaid work you all do for Henley but please think outside the box.”

Former town councillor Sam Evans, who was in the audience, told Mr Hemsley: “I think the town owes you great thanks for the work you have put in.

“It seems extraordinary that the town council, who vote on everything else that faces our town, remain silent on this. It would be great to hear our elected representatives express an opinion one way or the other.” Councillor Arlett said that only when a planning application had been submitted could the town council express a formal opinion.

Town councillor Will Hamilton said: “If the town council get behind it, we can get on with it and I think the bridge would look fantastic.”

Many of the people at the meeting said Mr Hemsley should be praised for his “generosity” and urged the town council to support the plans. Others asked if he had considered a project involving floodlights.

One audience member said: “I’m not against lighting the bridge, but wouldn’t it be better to have floodlights under the arches? It is a listed building and wouldn’t this be a better way to appreciate it?”

Mr Hemsley said he wanted to use LED lights as they would be reflected in the water as five ovals and floodlights would be much more expensive.

Daniel Bausor, a marketing consultant from Bix, who is working on the Illuminated River project in London, said Mr Hemsley should be applauded for the amount of time he had spent on the initiative.

“It is very well thought through,” he said. “We need to think about the next generation and I think it would be a great asset to the town.”

Henley jeweller David Rodger-Sharp said: “I think it is a beautiful gift. As a local business owner, anything that increases footfall in the town is most welcome.”

Henley Archaeological & Historical Group objected to Mr Hemsley’s application last year due to concerns about potential damage to the bridge. Concerns were also raised by Historic England, which said there was no justification or need to light the bridge.

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

After the meeting, Mr Hemsley told the Henley Standard: “I’m happy with how it went. There were some positive comments and some negative ones and that was the whole point of having the meeting.”

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