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Council Says No To Bonfire Sculpture

Published on: 5 Apr, 2012
Updated on: 12 Apr, 2012

A revised version of the proposed bonfire sculpture. The changes were not received in time to be considered in the debate which culminated in planning permission being refused

Guildford will not have a controversial Guy Riots bonfire sculpture on the roundabout by the police station, at the town end of Woodbridge Road. The planning application to erect the structure which, it’s creator insisted, represented the triumph of law and order over the lawless riots, was refused by a vote of 30 to 7.

Proceedings commenced with an explanation from a council officer that design amendments had not been submitted in sufficient time and that only the original design should be considered. There followed a lengthy and, at times, emotional debate which was introduced with five statements from members of the public. Four of these, including Gavin Morgan, author of the book ‘The Guildford Guy Riots’ and the sculptress herself, Theresa Smith, spoke in favour of the sculpture whilst Alderman, Gordon Bridger spoke against.

Author Gavin Morgan, said that the history of the riots was that they were bonfires that were enjoyed and tolerated. “They were community events… Lewes has chosen to embrace the tradition.” The sculpture, he said, “does not celebrate rioting anymore than a war memorial glorifies war.”

The sculptress and designer Theresa Smith said, “The sculpture  attempts to capture the spirit of the riots and the fact law and order had eventually won.” It would also create interest in an otherwise artistically featureless area of the town.

Gordon Bridger, Alderman, said that he was, “… totally in favour of more statues but this commemorates one of the worst events in Guildford’s history. A policeman had been badly injured. Why not, instead, have a statue to Phillip Jacob, the Mayor who put a stop to the riots or, preferably, something that looked to the future and reflected some of the successful work in technology that was taking place in Guildford.”

For the sculpture, Cllr David Goodwin, Leader of the LibDem Group

Several councillors complained that the issue should not have been referred to the full council by Councillors David Goodwin (LibDem Friary And St Nicolas) and Tony Philips (LibDem, Onslow), in the first place and reminded their colleagues that the application should only be judged on ‘material’ planning factors not whether councillors liked the look of it or what it stood for.

Cllr Goodwin was unrepentant. He said that the debate had proved that there were strong feelings on both sides that should be aired. “I am not an arty person. Never have been – and never will be –  but I think this sculpture would enhance the town.”

Confessing to being an ex student who knew that student behaviour, when under the influence of drink, might not be exemplary, Cllr Christian Holliday (Con, Burpham) said he was against the idea, “This sculpture screams ‘Climb on me, sit on me, hang things from me.'”

Against the sculpture, Cllr Richard Billington, "riots are nothing to commemorate".

Cllr Richard Billington (Con, Tillingbourne) announced that he was originally from Croydon where, “if we want to decorate a roundabout, we use a couple of burnt out cars.” He proceeded to give an emotional account of last year’s riots in Croydon which he had witnessed. Riots were nothing to commemorate, he felt. “Guildford has so much great history and heritage to celebrate. I don’t want people entering our town and seeing this statue representing a spiteful part of our past.”

We have heard a lot of tosh!” said Cllr Tony Phillips, “The cockerel has not caused a problem in Dorking and [SCC] Highways have reiterated that this does not represent a risk. Anyway, should the council be seen as an arm of the nanny state! We have heard mistold stories of history. The riots were a community event.”

In what he thought was his maiden speech in a GBC full council meeting, Cllr Neil Ward (Con, Shalford) said, “Highways never object to anything. Other statues do not represent civil unrest as this one does and it is in the wrong place, only yards from Bridge Street, known to be an area where, as the police had pointed out in their submission, there was a lot of anti social behaviour.”

At the end of the debate, Cllr Stephen Mansbridge (Con Ash South and Tongham) said that he considered this [the referral of the application to the full council] to have been one of the worst examples of misuse of a procedure. The council should fix things to make sure it does not happen again.

The debate culminated in a vote on a motion to refuse the application which was passed by 30 votes to 7. All those who voted against refusal appeared to be Liberal Democrats.

Click here to see: ‘Revisions to Bonfire Sculpture Ahead of Decision Day’

What do you think? Were the council right to refuse permission for the bonfire sculpture? Please have your say by using the ‘Leave a Reply’ feature below.

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Responses to Council Says No To Bonfire Sculpture

  1. Gordon Bridger

    April 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I very much welcome the decision to reject the sculpture as it gave the impression (which may not have been intended) of celebrating one of Guildford’s lamentable community events. The chair, on top, whose purpose was not explained, would be an invitation to anyone to climb and sit on it – even I would have had a go(at least were I younger).

    I would like to urge the sponsor, a prestigious games computer enterprise, to look to the future and celebrate Guildford’s success as a world centre of technology and, in collaboration with Surrey Satellite Technology, erect a suitable sculpture recognising Guildford’s future in this field. Maybe a satellite.

  2. Caroline Reeves

    April 7, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    The debate about the Electronic Arts sculpture was the first real debate that I have seen and heard at full Council since I was elected. It was good to see people speaking from the heart and even better that the debate was over a piece of art. I look forward to hearing as many speaking at the next full council meeting – whatever is on the agenda.
    [Caroline Reeves is a GBC Ward Councillor for Friary and St Nicolas]

  3. Bernard Parke

    April 7, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    When Chris Fox and Richard Marks were active we had several debates each monthly Council Meeting.
    Then of course we had the committee system when things seemed to be more open to discussion.

    Perhaps we should go back to that way of conducting Town Business?

  4. Gavin Morgan

    April 8, 2012 at 6:50 am

    Fascinating to see the council in action. I would urge everyone to pop along to a council meeting once in a while. It amused me that everyone seem to vote on party lines over a piece of sculpture. Are our councillors ever allowed to vote on their own?

  5. Pauline Surrey

    April 8, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I think it is a great pity that the council voted against erecting this statue. To my mind, it commemorates an interesting part of Guildford’s history, maybe not a good part, but an intriguing one nevertheless. Gavin Morgan’s book makes interesting reading, Henry Peak’s description of the riots too. It is fascinating that such events took place in our town. I also find it an attractive piece of art. What a pity! Originally, at a meeting I went to about eighteen months ago about the statue, there seemed to be no objection from Surrey County Council Highways people either, so it’s all very strange.

  6. Roger Marjoribanks

    April 9, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Thank goodness for a common-sense decision; this piece (and I make no judgment on it as art) would have just shrieked “Climb me” at any high-spirited young person with a couple of drinks inside them or, more seriously, someone with Gordon Bridger’s spirit and agility!