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Bombshell as public art head cannot stand in town centre

Friday, 18th April 2014.

Shocked councillors declared themselves speechless at the news that the 'Haverhill Head' public art project, intended for the town centre, cannot now be placed in a public space for health and safety reasons.

The project, given an 8,000 budget of public money, will now have to be placed within a secure site at Samuel Ward Academy, where it was developed.

The exciting and innovative design of a head, developed from the 'Face of Haverhill 2000' photographic project, was to have broadcast information and community events via two monitors placed in the eye sockets.

Initially planned to stand in the high street, its proposed location was changed for technical reasons to the market square - a site which caused controversy with Haverhill Town Council who wanted it sited on the edge of St Mary's Churchyard where it would still have been close to the high street.

But now that has all become academic because it required a certificate of structural integrity in order for it to be insured, and structural engineers have advised this cannot be given without taking the metal sculpture apart.

Each of its tiny metal pieces would have to be individually tested for such a certificate to be given, project organisers have been told.

The project was led by PATCH, the Public Art in the Town centre of Haverhill sub-group of St Edmundsbury Borough Council's Haverhill Area Working Party.

The chair of PATCH, Cllr Marion Rushbrook, broke the news to the working party meeting yesterday, to stunned silence.

She said the head was still a wonderful achievement by the students at Samuel Ward Academy who designed it under the leadership of the academy head of art Neil Williams.

It was created with the help of Haverhill company Metcraft Ltd, the same partnerships which had created the Queen Street gates so successfully.

But Cllr Rushbrook said it could not be placed on borough council land now, and instead would stand at Samuel Ward, where it would be under greater supervision.

One of the main fears is that, in the street, members of the public might try to climb on it and have an accident if it could not bear their weight. Engineers say they cannot say that it isn't safe, but neither can they say that it is because it is an entirely bespoke structure.

Cllr Maureen Byrne said: "I am speechless, for once. The kids have done a fantastic job and if it has to be at Samuel Ward, it has to be, but why wasn't a risk assessment done in the early stages?"

Cllr Rushbrook said the design had changed and evolved hugely over time and they had not wanted to constrain the artistic creativity of the project.

Cllr Pat Hanlon, who is a member of PATCH, said Mr Williams and the team of students were devastated.

"We must learn a lesson from this," he said. "We should have had a structural engineer involved from the beginning. But Suffolk County Council's structural engineer was taken away in the cuts."

The county council had advised on the Queen Street gates project because they were to be placed on their land.

"It's unbelievable," said Cllr Hanlon. "This is the face of the people of Haverhill, not the face of Samuel Ward."

Cllr Tim Marks said: "I don't understand how we have got to this point. My disappointment at this is unbelievable."

The borough council's economic development officer Andrea Mailey said this was always a danger in partnership working, where the council did not have full control over a project.

"But it is a fantastic piece of art and it will still be seen by people," she said.

The project budget was 8,000, plus 2,000 contingency, but the cost of making the structure safe would be way beyond that, members were told.

Cllr Anne Gower asked if it was not structurally sound to go where it was planned, was that not also the case at Samuel Ward, but was told the academy site would be better supervised, and secure at night.

Cllr Byrne said they should thank Mr Williams and the students for what they had done.

"I like to think this is not the end of the road for this piece of art," she said. "Perhaps we can site it somewhere else later on. There is money available."

Cllr Hanlon was worried that the academy and Metcraft might not be prepared to work on such a project agan after this disdappointment and they would have to work hard to bring them back on board for anything else.

But Cllr Richardson defended the project strongly. "Our collaboration with Samuel ward Academy has been highly productive," she said, "and we value their creativity and energy.

"It allowed us to deliver the splendid Quee Street gates and to be part of the Haverhill Head project, for which it has been a joy to see the sculpture develop."

In the grounds of the academy, she said, the head would 'be seen by residents and inspire students'.

Howard Lay, principal of Samuel Ward said: "While it would have been gratifying to have two ambitious school projects on display in the town centre, I am pleased that this artwork will remain on site.

"It is hard evidence that our students have vision and are willing to put in the hard work necessary to realise their ideas.

"The media side of the project is also an interesting, innovative concept and I look forward to seeing how it continues to be used and developed at the academy."

Haverhill Online News

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