Monday, 7 October 2013

Demolition of Chartist Mural in Wales Angers Local Community

A 1970s underpass mural celebrating the 1839 Chartist uprising in Newport has been demolished to make way for a shopping centre, prompting an angry response from the local community.
Despite a vocal campaign by local pressure group "Save Our Mural", the Welsh heritage protection body, Cadw, decided that the mural did not have sufficient special architectural or historical interest to justify listing (the key criteria under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, a process that would have saved it from demolition. Cadw said: "The quality of the building to which the mosaic is attached is poor and the underpass itself has no intrinsic design merits. [T]here [is] no specific association between the location of the mural and the Chartist uprising." The decision illustrates some of the key controversies with the listing process. The focus of the decision-maker is on the material rather than social value of the structure at hand. Here, Cadw seems to have looked through or past the mural itself and focused on the architectural quality of the structure to which the mosaic adheres rather than assessing the mosaic's significance on its own terms. Underpasses throughout Great Britain contain a large number of murals; they are, in a sense, a living part of our communities, at least prompting some sort of reaction from local people. The mural itself seems to have been overlooked. To say that there is no specific association between the location of the mural and the uprising seems disingenuous: the Westgate Hotel in Newport, where some Chartists had been imprisoned and to where the Chartist protesters marched to free them, is only about 200m from the underpass. The other interesting aspect here is the unresponsiveness of the local council to the feeling of the community about the mural. Economic development, in the form of a £100 million shopping centre development, has triumphed. Of course, not every mural, structure and building can be protected. Ossification is the danger of over-enthusiastic protection of everything from the past. Has the balance here been struck appropriately?

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