Home News Council had ‘no legal basis’ to ignore BLM statue bid

Council had ‘no legal basis’ to ignore BLM statue bid

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Bristol City Council has admitted it had “no legal basis” to ignore a planning bid to install a sculpture of a Black Lives Matter protester on the Colston Statue plinth.

The authority’s top planning officer conceded the fact at the end of a three-hour hearing before a government planning inspector on Thursday (July 8).

The inspector is yet to rule whether the life-sized depiction of Jen Reid can stand for two years on the base where slave trader Edward Colston’s statue was torn down last summer, after hearing the appeal against non-determination.

READ MORE: Battle lines drawn over bid to put BLM statue on Colston plinth

But regardless of the outcome, the council has the final say as owner of the plinth and is unlikely to allow the temporary installation of the piece , called A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020, by London-based artist Marc Quinn.

London-based planning consultants Interpolitan Ltd applied for the temporary installation in July last year, a day after the resin sculpture first appeared on the empty Grade II listed plinth without planning permission and on the same day it was removed by the council.

But the council failed to register, publish or decide the application, so Interpolitan director Gary Rice lodged an appeal against non-determination in March of this year.

In his written submission to the appeal, Mr Rice said the council “acted unilaterally and unlawfully to reject the applications at registration stage”.

But the local authority argued that the installation of the sculpture would be “prejudicial” to the role and work of the We Are Bristol History Commission, set up in the wake of the Colston toppling to produce recommendations about the future of the empty plinth.

The council’s development manager, Gary Collins, said city mayor Marvin Rees was determined the decision about what, if anything, goes on the plinth would be made democratically after “extensive” public consultation.

The officer said determining the application could have led to a flood of other proposals for monuments to sit atop the plinth, a suggestion Mr Rice said was “preposterous”.

Mr Collins said: “The council was operating in a context of unprecedented circumstances really, in terms of worldwide Black Lives Matter protests and marches, including within the city.



Planning inspector Jeremy Sargent (left) with Bristol City Council's development manager Gary Collins (top right) and Interpolitan director Gary Rice at a planning appeal hearing on July 8, 2021. Interpolitan appealed against non-determination of it
Planning inspector Jeremy Sargent (left) with Bristol City Council’s development manager Gary Collins (top right) and Interpolitan director Gary Rice at the planning appeal hearing on July 8

“We don’t believe that the refusal to validate, determine the applications was unreasonable. There was a very tense atmosphere within the city and the elected mayor’s focus was on containing protest and avoiding further trouble within the city.”

Asked by inspector Jeremy Sargent whether there was “any valid legal reason” for a local planning authority to turn away an application simply because it comes at an “inopportune time”, Mr Collins said: “There’s no legal basis for that really.”

Representatives from Heritage England argued that the temporary installation of the Jen Reid statue would do more harm than good from a heritage point of view.

But Mr Rice said the temporary installation of the Jen Reid statue would not harm the plinth or its setting, a historic area in the city centre near the Cenotaph. If any harm was found, he said, it would be outweighed by the “social cohesion” resulting from the display of a statue of a “woman of colour”, a member of an underrepresented community, in a public open space.

Mr Sargent plans to visit Bristol in the next few days to view the plinth and the Colston Statue exhibition at the M Shed before making his decision.

A decision is expected in the next couple of months.

Mr Rice has applied for full costs if Mr Sargent finds against the council and decides that the non-determination was unreasonable.

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