Monday, 12 November 2018

Battle of the bridge lights

Battle of the bridge lights

A CAMPAIGN has been launched to save the lights that were attached to Henley Bridge without permission.

More than 1,375 people have signed an online petition after Oxfordshire County Council said the strings of white LED bulbs must be removed from the Grade I listed crossing immediately.

The lights were attached to the 18th-century structure by artist Clive Hemsley and then switched on for the first time last week.

However, he did not seek permission from the council, which is responsible for the bridge and has said the lights must be removed.

An investigation has also been launched by South Oxfordshire District Council following a complaint by a member of the public that the lights did not have planning permission. Mr Hemsley, of Hart Street, Henley, says he has received scores of messages of support from people wanting the lights to remain permanently, including one from the Mayor.

He said: “I’ve had so many letters, emails and calls that I’ve not had the time to read them all but they’re coming in left, right and centre. People are saying it’s a brilliant idea, that the councils are being jobsworths and they’re glad I took the initiative as it has increased the value of their properties.

“I always thought the lights would look great. I may struggle to read or write but I can visualise things and was confident that this would be a no-brainer. It looks lovely because the reflections from the water form five ovals.

“I love the finished result and hope we get to keep them but in the end it’s not my decision.”

Mr Hemsley said he had received a phone call from Keith Stenning, the county council’s South Oxfordshire area steward, saying he should take the lights down under proper supervision.

“It is a shame that the council is taking such a strong line considering that there’s a lot of damage to the bridge that hasn’t been repaired,” he said.

“I need the community’s support if the lights are going to stay and hope that people with expertise in planning, listed structures and so on will come forward to help.

“We live in a democracy so I’ll accept whatever ultimately happens but I’d like to have a chance to make them permanent. I want the lights to stay until at least the end of this month as the river’s flowing much higher and faster after the snow. Removal will also take two or three days and we had a limited window to put them up before the weather got worse.

“Mr Stenning said the council would ‘take action’ if I didn’t do it but there’s nothing I can do at the moment. However long you leave those lights, they won’t do any damage because they weigh so little —  a strong person could just about hold all of them in their arms.

“The council was worried about the risk to the public in case they fall and hurt someone but I took out public liability insurance as part of the installation as I was very keen to do everything properly.

“I’ve seen a couple of negative comments online but in the main they’re very positive. I’ve spoken to the couple who live in the bungalow beside Leander Club as they’re most likely to be affected and they’re all for it. They say it’s much nicer than the floodlighting.

“Perhaps one option might be to leave them up but just have them on for special occasions like the regatta and the festival.”

Rose Prynn, who signed the petition, said: “I think the bridge is a focal point for various events and looks wonderful lit up. Well done to this chap.”

Mary Ann Moran said: “As a long-time resident, this is one of the most positive things I have seen and is a beautiful addition to the town. I cannot see any negative to this and am saddened that the county council would want to get rid of it.”

Cate Stoddart said: “I think they look stunning and provide a perfect ambience to draw the community out for a healthy evening riverside walk. Well done, Clive, on your community spirit and generosity.”

David Brough said: “The lights are nice but only on now and again. Electric light is pollution after all and I would personally like to see less of it and more of the dark and the stars. I have to admire the audacity!”

Mayor Kellie Hinton said: “I fully support lights on the bridge and understand the need for permission and the red tape but Clive did this with good intentions.”

She referred to damage to the bridge caused by a lorry during last year’s royal regatta, adding: “Perhaps the county council should focus on why it has taken nearly a year to fix the bridge before focusing on the rather beautiful lighting we now have.”

Eva Rickett said: “I understand it needs permission but it’s so beautiful and the arches could be lit up underneath in different colours too. You could have pink for breast cancer day, the five different ring colours during the Olympics, blue during the regatta and so on.”

Samantha Paulo Dal Lago said: “Keep them forever — I say they’re totally beautiful! Feeling very proud of our wonderful town.”

Henley town, district and county councillor Stefan Gawrysiak told the Henley Standard: “From comments made on social media, emails to me and talking to residents around the town, it seems people do like the lights, although some do not.

“However, if we want them to be made a permanent feature then it has to be done properly. This will mean discussions at town, district and county level and will need approval and advice from Historic England as the bridge is a listed structure.

“There will also have to be conversations with Wokingham Borough Council, all of which will take time.”

Mr Hemsley began installing the two strings of 8,000 bulbs on the bridge’s northern and southern faces on February 22 with help from staff at Hobbs of Henley, which provided a barge free of charge.

The lights, which use the same power in total as a single incandescent bulb, follow the line of the bridge’s five arches and balustrade and are powered from a socket at the Angel on the Bridge pub in Thames Side. They are attached with electrical tape and a soft putty so Mr Hemsley says they don’t need planning permission as they are a temporary structure which could be removed at any time.

A county council spokesman said: “We have not given permission for this to be done and installation must stop now. We will be seeking to have the lights removed under our supervision shortly.

“We would be very happy to consider permitting a lighting trial at any of our Oxfordshire river bridges if it were supported by the relevant local council and an acceptable method of installation and removal had been provided to us and agreed prior to installation.

“Henley Bridge is a listed structure and clearly any permanent lighting installation would require not only our permission but also listed building consent from the district council.”

To sign the petition, visit www.change.org and search for “Keep Henley Bridge Lights”.

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