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New plan to transform Ilfracombe into 'Hirst-on-Sea'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 09, 2013

By Nick Constable

  • Ilfracombe

  • Damien Hirst's Verity

  • Artist Damien Hirst

Comments (2)

It sounds like the trendiest of seaside retreats and has inevitably been dubbed Hirst-on-Sea.

But Damien Hirst’s plans to transform his picturesque Devon 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 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, is said to have a horror of "anonymous, lifeless buildings" and wants "the kind of homes he would want to live in".

The look of the eco-houses has not been revealed other than through a general artist’s impression.

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.

One senior councillor confirmed that the artist – thought to be the world’s richest with a £215 million fortune - would have an "input".

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 near 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.

"We’re lucky to have someone with his financial clout."

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  • Eastonian  |  December 09 2013, 4:35PM

    It seems to me that the main landowner concerned bought his farmland property some 10 years ago to live in the beautiful countryside which surrounds Ilfracombe now that countryside and many acres of green fields are going to be swallowed up by concrete, bricks and mortar and other building materials. What has changed, I wonder, in the last decade? My guess is this proposal is all to do with cash and financial greed. What a shame and I sincerely hope the Planning Authority will see this Planning Application for just that. Many basic questions need to be asked, not least, does Ilfracombe NEED a 750 home estate and where will the 2000 folk who come to live there work? On top of this devastation of the countryside is car/vehicle ownership will undoubtedly rise in the order of 1500, therefore, can the existing road network cope? What is the public transport service like, will that be able to cope and finally what about the water run-off and sanitation 750 new dwellings will create, can the existing network of mains sewerage cope? It is unfortunate that a North Devon Councillor has already shown his hand and I wonder, therefore, if this person will be allowed to attend the decision-making meetings?

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  • Exeter Planning - Planning Law Consultancy  |  December 09 2013, 1:57PM

    It should go without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway-the identity of the applicant is not a relevant consideration when deciding a planning application. I'm sure North Devon District Council will treat this application as they do any other, although I suspect the actual designs will raise some concerns if they are "the kind of homes he [Mr Hirst] would want to live in".

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