Damien Hirst's statue on its way to Ilfracombe
FOR the next 20 years Ilfracombe will be home to a 60ft bronze statue of a naked pregnant woman as designed by world-renowned artist Damien Hirst.
The statue, named Verity, will be hoisted into place on Ilfracombe pier in just over a month after North Devon Council approved both the planning application and the lease of the site last week.
For Giving CIC submitted the application for Verity on behalf of Damien Hirst back in June.
Since then it has attracted national interest and divided local opinion.
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On one side are those who believe the statue will increase visitors to Ilfracombe and help boost the area's economy.
But many think the statue is inappropriate and may in fact deter people from visiting Ilfracombe.
Ilfracombe Town Council voted eight to one in favour of Verity on July 16 and many councillors at North Devon Council's planning meeting last Wednesday believed this was reason enough for the statue to be given approval.
Councillor Paul Yabsley said: "I don't think any member of this planning committee has the right to say no. This is a decision for Ilfracombe and Ilfracombe has taken this decision."
The council had received nearly 300 letters regarding the application for the statue and members of the public had the chance to give their views at the meeting.
Mike Dymond was the only Ilfracombe town councillor who objected to the application and was the first to speak out against Verity at the meeting.
He said: "I have been a councillor for 29 years. This is one of the most controversial applications I have seen in all that time.
"To me it is an ugly insensitive object.
"I have wondered how it is going to be insured.
" I also understand it is going to be lighted. Is the lighting going to be paid for by the tax payer?
"I also think the police have reservations about its security. If an ordinary person made this application would it get the same consideration?"
A number of people have raised the belief that Damien Hirst is offering the statue to Ilfracombe on the condition that a potential plan for a housing estate in the area is approved.
Tony Olsson said at the meeting: "It is a money-making venture. Another money making venture is Damien's plans to build a housing estate. Verity is being offered to Ilfracombe as a sweetener."
Mr Olsson was not against the fact that the statue was of a naked woman.
"I am not a prude," he said. "One wall of my bedroom is covered in calendars of page three girls and Kylie Minogue. But young naked women cause offence to many people and there have been many discussions in Parliament to ban page three."
Sylvia Nutton joined the debate, saying: "If Ilfracombe has this piece of land which allows Damien Hirst to put his statue on it, it should reflect Ilfracombe, not Damien Hirst."
Another concern raised was that the statue would cause Ilfracombe to be the butt of many jokes about the area.
Margaret Clark said: "Recently I have seen in various shops that already posters are being made of the statue and what people can do is superimpose peoples' faces on it. So it is already a laughing stock.
"I would imagine these cardboard cutouts are being made that you can put your face into."
Ilfracombe town councillor Phillip Webb spoke in response about the subjective nature of the statue.
He said: "Art is a subjective matter and with any piece of art some people will like it and some will not.
"We need to look beyond our personal preferences to what this statue can do for Ilfracombe and its people."
Councillor Chris Turner agreed that personal opinions on the artistic nature of the statue needed to be disregarded when considering the application from a planning point of view.
He said: "We are not arbiters of public taste or public sensitivities. We are a planning committee and that is our remit. We are going to be damned if we do and damned if we don't.
"The examples of St Ives and Padstow have been cited and I am a little bit concerned. They have become victims of their own success.
"Having said that I like the statue and I support it."
Councillor Julia Clark said: "From a woman's perspective it just shows how women, and pregnant women with the sword raised particularly, rule the world."
Ten councillors voted in favour of the statue and councillors Julie Hunt and Jasmine Chesters voted against. There was one abstention, from councillor David Worden.