Artist Clive Hemsley explained his latest proposal to fit permanent lights on Henley Bridge at the Town Hall on Wednesday evening (29th January). The public meeting, chaired by Henley Mayor Ken Arlett, was attended by over 50 people, who had the opportunity to voice their views on the plans and pose questions to Mr Hemsley.
Temporary lights were installed on the bridge by Clive in February 2018, without planning permission. The lights divided opinions in the town; whilst a number of people expressed concern over damage to the bridge and the lack of requisite planning permission, many residents spoke out in favour of the lights. A petition to keep the bridge lights, started by the Henley Herald in February 2018, was signed by over 2,400 people. The lights were turned off in October last year after Wokingham District Council (WDC) rejected the first planning application for the permanent lights out of concern for damage to the bridge.
Clive’s latest proposal, discussed at Wednesday’s public meeting, involves energy efficient LED strip lights. Mayor Ken Arlett opened the meeting by stating, “There’s been a lot of talk over the years — a lot of it fact, a lot of it fiction, a lot of talk one way or the other. Not everything you have heard is true, and Clive is here tonight to set the record straight.”
The proposed LED strip lights match those used on the London bridges, and demand the same amount of energy to light both sides of Henley bridge for one night as boiling a kettle. The technology is cheap and energy efficient, as well as being safe — the LEDs are sealed, watertight, and shockproof, complying with UK safety laws. Clive is proposing to fasten the rubber LED strip with cable ties every metre and loop the back end of the tie through a 1 inch x 1 inch plastic fastener (attached to the bridge with silicon compound). A sample of the lights was shown at the front of the stage, and samples of the proposed plastic fixing passed around the room.
The application will be for a 10 year instillation, the duration of the guarantee on the lights, and it is suggested that the lights will be turned off at midnight (excepting special occasions such as Henley Royal Regatta or Henley Festival). As the strips emit a low amount of light directly onto the water, the disruption to wildlife should also be minimal.
The project will be funded privately by Clive, who is offering to cover both the instillation and running costs. Clive said on Wednesday, “This project is much more then just giving back to the town. We are a market town competing against other towns and cities for tourism: holidaymakers, visitors and growing our businesses. To that end we want to increase footfall in our town to support our local businesses, restaurants, pubs and sports clubs, Leander Club, Phyllis Court Club, and also support all the wonderful festivals throughout the year which bring in more people and millions of pounds into the town. Of course we should be featuring the bridge and our other historic assets to work with these festivals throughout the year. We should be promoting, enhancing and encouraging more visitors who will take photos and footage and through social media instantly promote Henley globally on the internet with an unbelievable creative image of our bridge lit up.”
The proposed LED lights also have a colour change feature, which Mr Hemsley suggested could be utilised to celebrate significant occasions: pink for Leander achievements, for instance, or red white and blue for the Dunkirk Little Ships flotilla at the Traditional Boat Festival later this year, marking the 80th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation.
Clive stated on Wednesday that both Marlow and Wallingford Town Councils have approached him about lighting their bridges, but he refused on the basis that he wants to see Henley Bridge illuminated first. He noted that 30 applications for London bridges have been approved, and that all major London bridges have the backing of their borough.
Daniel Bausor, a Henley resident who has worked on the Illuminated London River project, has been helping Clive with the logistics of the lights and was in attendance on Wednesday to answer questions about London’s bridges. He stated, “I’d just like to say, Clive, I think you should be applauded. These lights are sustainable and will beautify the town for the next generation.” Daniel continued, “We’re actually the envy of the world with what we’ve done with the river project in London, so I think [the lights] would be an asset to the town, and you should be applauded for all you’ve done.”
These sentiments were echoed by many of the audience members who passed comment on the bridge lights, with one describing the pilot lights as ‘magnificent’. David Rodger Sharp, owner of David Rodger Sharp Jewellers in Duke St, said, “As a local business owner, I rely on people coming to the town, and I think it was one of the reasons I moved here, seeing the bridge lit up. So I think it’s a wonderful gesture.”
Another audience member remarked, “The lights on the bridge are amazing. We frequently walked down to see them because they make me feel happy.” Suggestions were made for further lights to be installed: one person proposed that the balustrades should be lit up too, as you cannot see the arch lights when travelling over the bridge; another said that there could be an integrated lighting system for the whole town, lighting up the promenade all along Riverside and Thameside up to Hobbs.
The majority of people in attendance were in favour of lighting the bridge, although the manner in which it would be done was a source of dispute. Two people (Catherine Notaras and Antony Duckett) were in favour of floodlights which would light up the sculptures of Isis and Tamesis and show off the texture and architecture of the bridge. Clive responded that they are harmful to the wildlife and that the technology is far less sustainable. Daniel Bausor added that flood lights would use 70% more energy than the proposed lights. Clive also highlighted that the shape of the arch lights would reflect as five perfect ovals in the water, which he said is “a beautiful shape from any direction and I believe more artistic than flood lights from the 70’s or 80’s.” The proposed strip lights, Clive explained, would cause less damage than installing flood lights as they can rest on top of the arches and utilise the help of gravity to stay in place.
David Feary asked about the damage the duct tape and sealant used on the pilot lights has caused. Clive responded that it was only superficial damage, and confirmed that he would pay for any cleaning or damage after they are removed (once the river has come down). He said Mr Feary should be more worried about the damage that has been caused by boats and barges, but this was another matter. Senior Officers at the Environment Agency have voiced their support on installing bridge lights from a boat safety perspective, which Clive hypothesised could prevent further damage to the bridge’s structure.
Robin Calver, Principal Structure Officer for Oxfordshire County Council, sat on the panel. He stated that he was not concerned that pilot lights’ fixings had caused major damage to the bridge, even adding that “to some extent it’s protecting the stonework.” When discussing the proposed new lights, he expressed a belief that the principle will work and will be acceptable, although he hasn’t done a final review of the silicon compounds proposed for attaching the plastic fasteners.
Oxfordshire County Councillors Ian Hudspeth and Tim Shickle have expressed support for the idea of illuminating Henley Bridge. Local MP John Howell has also written a letter in favour of the lights, which Clive read out on Wednesday evening. It said, “I am happy to confirm to you that I support the lighting up of the bridge at Henley. At a time when so many bridges are being lit up in London I think it will add significantly to the brightness and gaiety of Henley. It may be that the Council will need to look at hours during which the lights will work and the lights should not generate emissions and be environmentally friendly, but I do think this would be a good addition to the town.”
One person at the meeting asked whether the lights would attract more insects like the Angel on the Bridge’s lights, to which Clive replied had no knowledge of this being a problem with other illuminated bridges.
The Henley Archaeological and Historical Group (HAHG) has previously opposed the application for lights as the fitting was going to involve drilling holes into the bridge. However, John from HAHG said on Wednesday that this concern had now been resolved. He posed the question of whether Clive was submitting the applications to the right people in order to gain planning permission. Clive responded that his application to Wokingham was a test, and that the next one would be a blanket application to all the Councils (SODC, Oxfordshire, Wokingham and Henley Town Council). Mr Hemsley said that he would welcome help on this matter from anyone who is “knowledgeable and familiar with local planning who can process this new group application”.
Ken Arlett confirmed that the application, once submitted, will take 8 weeks to process. Should it be approved, the lights would take two days to fit. Clive expressed his hope that the new strip LEDs will be in place by the summer, to which the room applauded. He stated on Wednesday, “We should be proud of our inheritance so why are we not showing it off to the world? In the middle of winter how all our hearts are lifted with positive thoughts of seeing such a beautiful structure and shape tastefully lit up.”