Sunday, 20 June 2021

Bridge lights attacked by vandals

Bridge lights attacked by vandals

A STRING of lights that was attached to Henley Bridge has been vandalised.

The culprits removed a 10m stretch of the LED illuminations from the northern face of the bridge at Red Lion Lawn, off Thames Side, during Friday night.

They tore the lights from the stonework, pulling away chunks of the masonry glue which had been used to fix them in place, then cut off a section using a knife or scissors.

Artist Clive Hemsley, of Hart Street, who installed two strings of 800 white lights on both sides of the Grade I listed crossing in February, says he will replace them within the next fortnight.

He also plans to put up CCTV cameras to deter more vandalism or catch the culprits in the act if there is a recurrence. There have been vandalism problems and claims of youths taking drugs at Red Lion Lawn previously.

However, Mr Hemsley said it would be “hypocritical” to report the incident to the police as South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, is conducting an enforcement investigation after he put up the lights without planning permission and could even prosecute him.

Mr Hemsley discovered the lights had been damaged after going to inspect the site on Saturday morning.

He said: “It’s strange because I had a funny feeling that something had happened to them and I wanted to check.

“Ironically, it looks as though somebody has vandalised my ‘vandalism’ at the only vulnerable spot where people can get to it.

“On the plus side, it goes to show the material I used to fix the lights is harmless because, as I promised, it came off in one piece and without doing any damage to the Ham stone underneath.

“I won’t go the police but I will repair it because I won’t let myself be dictated to by vandals.

“The lights on the opposite side of the bridge still work but this side will be off until it’s repaired.

“I’m very keen to make sure everything is working again in time for Henley Royal Regatta, which isn’t that long away.

“I’m amazed at some people’s attitudes but I’m hoping it was just kids rather than anyone with some kind of agenda. 

“I know it gets a bit dodgy on Red Lion Lawn in the evenings because it’s quite dark and private but I think CCTV cameras would discourage people from doing this again.

“There’s still a lot of support for this project, though. When I went to buy replacement connectors at Medlocks in Newtown Road the manager gave them to me for free, which was a kind and very generous gesture.”

Mr Hemsley installed the lights using a barge and crew provided by Hobbs of Henley while the Angel on the Bridge pub is supplying power from its sockets.

Oxfordshire County Council, which is responsible for the bridge, has ordered Mr Hemsley to remove the lights but he has not been able to do so because the river is so high and fast flowing following the recent heavy rain.

Members of Henley Town Council’s town and community committee are due to discuss the lights issue at their next meeting.

Mayor Kellie Hinton has spoken in favour while Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who is also Henley’s representative on the district and county council, says they could be deemed acceptable but the relevant authorities would have to be consulted.

An online petition calling for the lights to stay has now attracted almost 2,400 signatures.

Mr Hemsley said: “I haven’t heard anything from the district or county council for a while as I suppose they’re waiting to hear what the town council thinks.

“I would like to apply for retrospective planning permission but there’s no point going ahead without the town council’s support. In theory the lights are still meant to come down but I have no plans to remove them for the time being.

“The Environment Agency still has flow warnings in place for this stretch of the Thames so it wouldn’t be safe anyway.

“I hope the town council will have the courage to support keeping them for a season to see how it works.

“We could revisit it in a year’s time and install something different if people preferred, like festoon lighting.

“We had some electrical problems at the Angel but they’ve been fixed and the lights are on again on the side that wasn’t vandalised.

“The whole thing has become quite a soap opera and I have to admit people keep telling me they can’t wait to buy the Henley Standard to see what the next instalment will be!”

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