Larne’s Jubilee Crown is at the centre of a new planning row after a nationalist councillor branded it “kitsch” and “in utterly poor taste”.
Ballymena SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan made the comments ahead of a Mid and East Antrim Borough Council planning committee meeting today (Thursday November 5) which may determine the future of the controversial Circular Road roundabout feature.
Officials have recommended approval of the council’s request for permanent planning permission, but Cllr O’Loan released a statement urging the committee to reject the recommendation. “I want to make it clear that my view is not based on any political grounds,” he stated.
“It is entirely based on my assessment of the crown in terms of design quality or aesthetics. I think that it is unquestionably a piece of kitsch and in utterly poor taste. It is like something that came out of a giant Christmas cracker, intended to be discarded after the first laugh.”
While professing himself to be “a strong supporter of good public art”, Cllr O’Loan said that in his view “this object does not come into that category.”
In a letter to the council’s planning department, Cllr O’Loan stated that “the best term to describe the crown is as a piece of kitsch, usefully defined as ‘something considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality’.”
He added: “Sometimes a piece of kitsch can be so awful that it takes on a certain weird charm, but I don’t think that even that redeeming characteristic applies here.”
DUP Alderman Gregg McKeen condemned Cllr O’Loan’s stance as mere political point-scoring. “I think he is using this to try and get across a political point that he doesn’t want the crown there,” he told the Times.
“What it stands for and represents is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. He is trying to bring in a planning argument to try and score overall political points.”
Ald McKeen, who sits on the planning committee, said: “It’s his opinion that the design is poor taste, it’s his perception and that isn’t a valid planning reason for refusal.
“I will be supporting the crown, it’s a feature that’s recognised throughout the whole area and it’s there to stay.
“The application is down for approval and I can’t see any valid planing reason it shouldn’t be passed now when it wasn’t turned down previously.
“There’s no change in the application, it just involves making the crown a permanent feature.”
UUP Alderman Maureen Morrow, who was Mayor of Larne when the crown was first erected, said she was “very disappointed” by Cllr O’Loan’s stance, adding: “I have never had a complaint from people in Larne, it’s always from people outside of this area and this is outside Cllr O’Loan’s area.
“It’s ridiculous he has taken that stance. The crown is maybe not to everyone’s taste but it has brought tourism, it’s a feature and it was built by the youth of Larne at Larne Skills Development.
“It has never been damaged or vandalised so it’s not upsetting the people of Larne. It’s a big tourism pull and I don’t see any reason it should be removed.”
TUV councillor Ruth Wilson branded Cllr O’Loan’s remarks “divisive” and said they were “only a stunt stirring up resentment and division in Larne town and the surrounding local community”.
She added that Cllr O’Loan’s remarks were “for cheap political gain” prior to upcoming Assembly elections.
“The crown roundabout is a positive, established feature on the fringe of the town, paid for out of the public purse and has many years useful life as a prominent landmark enjoyed and admired by the people of the town and tourists and visitors to the area,” she stated.
“It should not be removed, generating waste and misuse of public funds, but should remain a prominent feature for Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday and on into the future.”
Daniel Crawford, who created the “Like to Save Larne’s Crown” Facebook page in support of retaining the structure, accused Cllr O’Loan of electioneering and demanded that he apologise to the loyalist community for his remarks.
“The crown means a lot to the people of this town,” he stated.
“It makes Larne different from every other town, it’s our own wee landmark that people know from all over Northern Ireland.
“It’s not an eyesore like he says, people come to see it and they talk about it across Northern Ireland.
“It looks well and it’s a symbol of the Queen. Everyone loves the crown. This is politically-motivated criticism.”
Daniel claimed his campaign to keep the crown has “a lot of support” from the local community, and that if the planning application is rejected there will be protests.
“If they try to take it down we will protest around it every night until it’s safe,” he concluded.
The eight-metre high structure, designed and created by Larne Skills Development, was put in place without planning permission shortly before the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June, 2012. Temporary planning permission, which was gained retrospectively, is due to expire on December 1.
An Equality Impact Assessment on the structure is also due to be carried out by the council separately to the planning application.
A council spokesman said that the Equality Working Group had not yet dealt with the Equality Impact Assessment on the structure, but “will do so in the near future”.