The North Devon town of Ilfracombe had already been dubbed Hirst-on-Sea, thanks to the hard-to-miss presence of a certain millionaire artist.
But Damien Hirst’s plans to transform his nearby picturesque farm into a new town of 3,000 people has already upset the neighbours.
The livestock-pickling artist has submitted a planning application for 750 eco-homes, a school, shops, health centre, offices, sports pitches, playgrounds and cycle paths on the edge of Ilfracombe.
Hirst, 48, whose own secluded country estate stands five miles away from the town, is said to have a horror of “anonymous, lifeless buildings” and wants to create “the kind of homes he would want to live in”.
Only a general artist’s impression of the eco-houses has been revealed, but residents living alongside say the development will invade their privacy, swamp local services and turn the quaint Victorian town’s narrow streets into a traffic nightmare.
There are also dark murmurings about “Damien domination” of Ilfracombe.
One resident claimed that since donating Verity – his huge statue of a pregnant woman brandishing a sword – to the local council, “Damien thinks he’s bought the town”.
However, Hirst has also won support from locals. Council and business leaders say Ilfracombe desperately needs a population boost with more young families.
The official planning name of the project – the “Southern Extension” – has the ring of a Hirst contemporary installation about it.
One senior councillor confirmed that the artist – thought to be the world’s richest with a £215 million fortune – would have an “input” on the development.
The 187-acre site covers much of Winsham Farm, a wildlife haven which Hirst bought for £900,000 ten years ago. A decision on the outline planning application submitted by his company Resign will be made by North Devon Council early next year.
Residents from nearby housing estates say they are shocked by its size and fear ten years of building work will cause huge disruption for Ilfracombe’s 12,500 population.
“I’m worried about it invading our privacy,” said Kate Barnard, a 41-year-old staff nurse. “It backs right on to our garden.
“Damien Hirst has done good things here, but this is
far too big. He already owns a restaurant, hotel and harbour properties – it’s starting to feel like Damien domination.”
Bill Potter, 68, said: “He’s stuck up a monstrosity of a statue and he thinks he’s bought the town. Now he’s building this Hirst-on-Sea. But where are all these people going to work? How will local services cope?”
David Watts said Hirst was “entitled to produce whatever art form he wants”.
But he added: “He appears to be a man with plenty of money already. Why does he want to generate more money by building houses?
“I don’t begrudge people having a house to live in, but 750 in one go seems an awful lot.” Another neighbour, former North Devon councillor Margaret Sutcliffe, said more housing for young families was needed.
“My reservations are all about the size of this development,” she said. “We’re talking about 3,000 people arriving in a small town.”
During a public meeting last year, Hirst’s architect, Mike Rundell, said the artist was “incredibly excited” about his housing vision.
“He has a horror of building anonymous, lifeless buildings,” said Mr Rundell. “He wants these houses to be the kind of homes he would want to live in.”
Councillor Mike Edmunds of North Devon’s strategic planning team said: “Damien Hirst is behind the project and he will have his input on the design.” He added: “We’re lucky to have someone with his financial clout.”