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Removal of Jo Fairfax's 'Civic Heart Arch' in Chester-le-Street

Date uploaded: January 14, 2013

Jo Fairfax's Civic Heart Arch is to be demolished by Durham County Council to save maintenance costs. Civic Heart Arch was commissioned by Chester-le-Street District Council and was erected in 2007 at a cost of £334,000 as part of a £2.5m redevelopment of the town’s Market Place.

More than 900 people took part in a six-week public consultation exercise, carried out by Durham County Council, which found that 94 per cent of people were in favour of demolishing the 75ft (23m) long archway. However, the authority must spend £48,000 to knock it down, remove it and reinstate the paving.

Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, said: 'The feedback we have received from the consultation gives the clear message that residents and businesses in Chester-le-Street believe the best option for future of the town centre is the demolition of the arch. In line with our promise to the public, now that we know their wishes we will waste no time in taking action to remove the arch and make good the Market Place.'

The Civic Heart Arch, in Chester-le-Street, has been fenced off from the public for the last six months after hexagonal briquettes covering the surface began to come loose due to weathering. A structural examination of the arch last year revealed that its cover of 10,000 briquettes had moved as a result of exposure to the weather and some are no longer properly supported.

Engineers said the cost of fully repairing the sculpture would be £282,000, plus a further £5,000 for annual maintenance. It currently costs the council £300 per month to monitor the artwork and ensure public safety.

Fairfax only heard that the arch would be demolished after he was contacted by the Press Association, said: 'It is extremely upsetting. As you can imagine, a lot of work went into it. It was nominated for several architecture awards and appears in books on European architecture and it seems a huge shame that it ends like this.'

Fairfax explained that a lack of maintenance was to blame for water getting into the structure, which has caused damage particularly over recent harsh winters. He said that it could have lasted for decades if properly maintained. Fairfax told Today presenter James Naughtie: 'I was asked to come up with an unusual design that wasn't the standard market place design… this is partly why it gained the interest from conferences and books on architecture and urban spaces.'

Fairfax designed the work to represent the town’s Roman heritage. The 20ft (6m) tall arch was designed in red brick to match the town's large railway viaduct and included 480 LED lights on top which slowly changed colour.

Kevan Jones MP, whose North Durham constituency includes Chester-le-Street, said: 'I have been contacted by a number of constituents who are concerned about the huge costs, quoted in the consultation, for repairing and maintaining the arch, and I have written to Durham County Council on this matter. I firmly believe the only sensible option is to remove the arch, which has always been a monstrosity and which, in its current state of disrepair, is a real eyesore in the centre of town'.

The council said that, weather permitting and subject to approval, demolition would begin at the end of February or beginning of March 2013.

Click here to hear the interview with Jo Fairfax on Radio 4

Jo Fairfax, 'Civic Heart Arch', 2007

Jo Fairfax, 'Civic Heart Arch', 2007