Adam Bird

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Friday, 30 January 2009

Making a Point

The Ebbsfleet Landmark

Last year I set up a Facebook Group in an attempt to open dialogue with Land Securities, the company behind the Ebbsfleet Landmark. I also wrote a couple of blog articles and set up a petition on the government website so that us, the local residents could, if we wanted be given the choice to reject the three shortlisted designs as being unsuitable and vote to reject the plans altogether or come up with a more suitable, viable solution.

As a result of my Facebook Group I was approached by a researcher for the BBC Politics programme and interviewed over the telephone and subsequently invited onto Sunday's show to discuss the proposition alongside a member of staff working for the Ebbsfleet Landmark Trust - a subsidiary of Land Securities.

Despite having huge misgivings about appearing on a television show and attempting to eloquently put together an argument against something and coming across sympathetically to a watching audience, coping with the extreme nerves and potential of stage fright I decided that this was something that I needed to do. I would have felt rather fraudulent having set up two forms of protest, getting other like minded people to sign up and then not doing anything about it when given the opportunity.

Therefore putting together this blog is a form of therapy, a form of research and a way in which I can logically place all the issues in a sensible way in readiness for Sunday. Having things written down will help my thought process (hopefully) when on Sunday I will be asked various questions upon the subject at hand.

Having seen last weeks show on the BBC iPlayer to see just what I was letting myself in for and seen that there would be a small Q and A session between myself and this gentlemen from the Ebbsfleet Landmark Trust, I thought I would attempt to provide some answers to some potential questions (based upon what I was asked in the research interview), being only a six minute segment, in which three people will be speaking, I have a lot to fit in such a small amount of time!

What was your motivation for setting up a Facebook group against the Ebbsfleet Landmark?
My initial reaction to the five designs right from the off was that of distaste. I didn't feel any affinity with them, or felt that they were reflective of the local area and was rather bemused by the whole project. It wasn't until I attempted to read further into the plans and realise the scope of what was actually planned would be a significant intrusion into our local area and the fact that we, as local residents had no say in anything other than the original five proposals. It would appear, and indeed it still does, that we are going to have to live with one of the final three, like it or not and without any scope whatsoever of saying No.

What is it about the designs that you don't like?
I understand that "art", and this is what this landmark is, a piece of public art, it is subjective and that there are people who genuinely like what the proposals offer. However, I believe that there are a significant amount of people, who like myself, believe that neither of the three shortlisted entries are right for the location in which they are planned, either aesthetically, historically or culturally. I have read the artists descriptions, and what they are deemed to represent, but even with the explanation they provided I still think that they can get a lot closer to a final design that is more in keeping with what we, as local residents would see as a suitable landmark.

Right now, you could take all three of the finalised entries, put them on any hill in any part of the UK and beyond, they would have the same meaning and impact as they do right now - the horse would be equally at home in Newmarket, or Cheltenham than it does right now.

This isn't about not having a landmark altogether, it's about assessing the need for piece of public art in this location, whom it is aimed at, whom is likely to benefit from it, what should the landmark represent and what kind of legacy should the landmark be aiming for?

I believe, that if the local people had been part of the original brief, met with the artists and the planners right from the beginning, had input into the whole project, we would be sitting here having a very different conversation.

Do you have any ideas what you would like to see instead?
Again, it's subjective, and also I am not an artist! However, it goes back to the questions "Who is this aimed at?" and "What is it for?", does it need to be something that works on a local, or international level with its proximity to Ebbsfleet International. It's purpose as far as I can see is solely as an advertising hoarding to put Ebbsfleet on the map so that Land Securities can sell 10,000 houses in the next ten to fifteen years.

So depending on which context you wish to aim the landmark towards, you can find plenty of inspiration. Locally you have the Swanscombe Archeology, the findings of the "Swanscombe Man", a 400,000 year old Homo Sapien who they now suspect may have been a women! The flooding of the cement works, which is now Blue Lake and still has all the train carriages at the bottom - a nice link with the current Ebbsfleet rail link!

On a countywide basis, but still holding a local link, the Men of Kent, met near Swanscombe and offered a truce to William I and his army, causing Kent to be the only part not to be conquered, which in Latin means Invicta - still used to this day as part of the Kent coat of arms and locally known and respected.

What is the general local opinion - has this been picked up by the local paper?
I can only go by what I have seen personally, and the people I have spoken to. I mean there are people whom have joined my Facebook group and left messages of support and etc. People also signed the petition, but neither of which have been publicly flaunted and so it's reach has been fairly minimal.

However, people who I have spoken with, friends, family and neighbours have all been quite negative of the final designs and quite negative about the whole idea full stop. There are a lot of concerns not only about the design, but the financial aspect, spending upwards of £2 million pounds, especially in the current financial climate without a promise of a return on investment. As well as this, there is a safety issue at stake with the proximity of the design next to a very busy Pepper Hill stretch of the A2, which is already locally notorious for accidents. How would a 150ft foot horse for example not be a distraction?

There have been letters within the editorial section of the newspaper in general complaints about the project, but I haven't seen any front page headlines. To be honest, I don't expect the local paper to show much restraint. It is a money orientated scheme and the local paper have much to earn from the Ebbsfleet development. The potential of 40,000 new readers and advertisers is a huge carrot for them. The Kent Online website, and other nationals such as the Guardian and Telegraph have "whats your view" sections and reading through a high volume of responses, most of which are not encouraging support for the project.

Join the debate - and don't forget to watch on Sunday!
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