Vote on plans to scrap Horsham’s Shelley Fountain due tonight

Shelley Fountain in Horsham. Pic Steve Robards SR1611257 19-04-16 SUS-160419-160127001
Shelley Fountain in Horsham. Pic Steve Robards SR1611257 19-04-16 SUS-160419-160127001

A vote on whether or not to scrap the Shelley Fountain is set to be taken by councillors tonight (Wednesday April 27).

The landmark was installed in Horsham town centre 20 years ago but has been beset by reliability problems and proved divisive among Horsham residents.

Repairs and maintenance have cost taxpayers in excess of £200,000 since its installation - and the water feature has not been turned on since 2013.

Councillors are being asked to allocate another £40,000 to remove the Rising Universe from its long-standing home in the Bishopric.

They will decide the future of the sculpture at a Full Council meeting tonight.

Although the fountain has proved largely unpopular, its likely demise has been met with sadness by its creator.

Sculptor Angela Conner blamed the decision on Horsham town centre becoming ‘bigger and more commercial’ and described it as a victory for commerce over art.

However, she thanked the council for being transparent about the situation.

She said: “It’s always sad when commerce overcomes art. Horsham, wishing to make the town bigger and more commercial, is involved in installing a big John Lewis store, and for this reason are removing the water mobile called Rising Universe.

“The council has always been polite, open, and helpful, and I understand the direction they want the town to go in.

“But it’s a shame to see culture put to one side in the face of growing business projects.”

However, a spokesperson for the council said Shelley Fountain has ‘reached the end of its serviceable life’.

A report set to go before members at the council meeting will recommend the sculpture’s removal and includes a proposal for the future of the area.

Under the proposal, the central globe and satellite arms would be removed while the splash pool area would remain and be incorporated into a formalised planting scheme as part of landscape enhancements to the area.

The council spokesperson said the new landscaping would provide a ‘more attractive environment’ while further consideration is given to future options to improve the wider Bishopric area.

Shelley Fountain would require ongoing costly repairs as well as weekly and monthly maintenance work to retain it as originally intended, the council said.

The council spokesperson added: “The decision is being made against a backdrop of renewed investment with the recent opening of the John Lewis at Home and Waitrose development, the current refurbishment of Bishop Weald House and the recently announced proposals for a revitalisation of the Swan Walk Centre to provide family restaurants and a multiplex cinema.”

If the council gives the go-ahead to the proposal, the landscaping scheme could be included in plans for the longer term vision for the area.

Jonathan Chowen, HDC’s cabinet member for leisure and culture, said: “Since the Rising Universe was installed in 1996 it has evoked strong opinions - both good and bad - which is often the case with works of art.

“As the engineering costs and challenges of maintaining the Rising Universe have increased over time, it is now not possible to maintain the water fountain element, and without it, it is no longer the sculpture or art work that was originally envisaged.

“It is unfair to the sculpture, the artist and the town to leave the situation unresolved.

“Following a great deal of consultation, discussion and thought, plus the growing views of the wider public, we have come to the conclusion that the sculpture should be removed and steps taken to enhance the area by using savings and additional investment to provide landscaping and the return of more floral displays to make the town centre more attractive.”

Frances Haigh, chair of Horsham Blueprint Neighbourhood Forum added: “Of all the comments we have ever received from the public, the Shelley Fountain has been one of the most popular topics.

“We celebrate its unique contribution to Horsham for the last twenty years. Many people will remember it fondly from the excitement of watching it in action as a child.

“However, it is very much a ‘marmite’ feature and there are equally strong feelings against it. As a large, moving sculpture it continues to be very expensive to maintain.

“We agree that it has had its day and we look forward to working with Horsham District Council on a new scheme for this important public space within our town centre.”

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