Plans to scrap Horsham’s Shelley Fountain were given the go-ahead by councillors last night (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.
Horsham district councillors approved £40,000 to remove the Rising Universe from its long-standing home in the Bishopric and provide replacement landscaping in the area.
Susannah Brady, who started a campaign to save the fountain last year, argued that since the town had a vibrant arts scene it was ‘ironic’ that they were axing Horsham’s ‘most iconic totem’ and a ‘world-class sculpture by an artist good enough for the Queen’.
She added: “At a time when we see an unprecedented level of investment in the town, surely there is an opportunity to fund a restoration plan by tapping into the budgets of these investors, in the same manner in which the fountain was originally acquired? Where there’s a will there is a way.
“I therefore propose the council considers giving the fountain a stay of execution whilst opportunities to fund restoration from the private or charitable sectors are explored, and we cleverly utilise the publicity surrounding the issue as a lure to the art tourist’s pound.”
Meanwhile Peter Seddon, of the Public Monuments and Sculptures Association and co-author of The Sculptures of Sussex published in 2014, asked the council to maintain the ‘magnificent fountain’, but explained that 32 members of the Regency Society had visited Horsham the weekend before to be confronted with a ‘dry waterless ruin’.
He added: “Heaven knows what Shelley would think.”
Jonathan Chowen (Con, Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead), HDC’s cabinet member for leisure and culture, explained that not all great art was great engineering and visa-versa.
The decision had followed a ‘great deal of consultation and discussion’, and he argued it was ‘unfair’ to the sculpture, the artist and the town to leave the situation unresolved.
The globe would be taken down and moved into storage while HDC invited bids from interested parties to give it a new home.
Meanwhile the council is planning to convert the sculpture’s splash pool into a planting bed to enhance the area.
Mr Chowen added: “This is just the beginning because we are looking at that whole area with the community, the neighbourhood councils and Horsham Blueprint.”
Tony Hogben (Con, Denne), who said his wife was interviewed by Mercury FM at the opening of the fountain, said: “I would like to save the Shelley Fountain. I think it’s an iconic landmark Horsham is known for.”
But he said this was only his personal view, and since throughout all the consultations Horsham residents had been overwhelmingly in favour of scrapping the sculpture and therefore he would be supporting the motion before councillors.
Adrian Lee (Con, Denne), the other ward member for that part of the town centre, explained that if you searched ‘world’s ugliest fountain’ on Google the Shelley Fountain was the first result.
He described it as mechanically unreliable and ‘thoroughly unattractive’ and said: “I do not think we want Horsham to be represented in that way.”
Leonard Crosbie (LDem, Trafalgar) called the fountain’s design ‘adventurous and ingenious’ but said it could not keep going on forever if it did not function properly.
On the future of the Bishopric, he added: “It’s a big area, it needs to be supported in a creative, meaningful and imaginative way.”
Brian Donnelly (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham), cabinet member for finance and assets, said that the engineering was not up to the same standards as the design, and added: “It no longer can do what it was put there to do.”
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