Development may cover up Banksy mural
A world-famous Banksy mural in the heart of Bristol could be partially hidden from view in a new housing development, it has been claimed.
The 10-year-old work, Mild Mild West, on the side of a former solicitor's office in Stokes Croft, shows a Teddy bear aiming a Molotov cocktail at riot police.
It has become an icon of street art, well-known to the mysterious graffiti artist's fans all over the world.
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But now architect Nick Childs, chairman of the Bristol Urban Design Forum, believes plans to develop the area immediately in front of the mural could rob the public of one of modern Bristol's more popular sights.
Developers Connolly and Callaghan, of nearby Hamilton House, want to build nearly 80 homes – mostly flats – on land fronting on to Stokes Croft on one side and City Road on the other.
Offices, a cafe and a shop are also included in the project, which is being recommended for approval at tomorrow's development control committee meeting of the city council.
But it is the scheme for a so-called 'Winter Garden' – a glassed open area – at the Stokes Croft front of the project which is controversial.
If it gets the go-ahead, the Banksy mural – which has taken the brunt of Bristol's weather since it was created in early 1999 – will be brought under cover for the first time.
Customers at the proposed cafe will be able to marvel at it as they sit at tables laid out in the Winter Garden.
And White Design, agents for the developers, insist the public will not only be able to walk in and out of the glassed area to enjoy one of the earliest surviving examples of Banksy's work. They will also be able to see it through the glass from outside, they say.
But the Urban Design Forum – a panel of architects and conservationists regularly, as on this occasion, consulted by the council's planning officials – is not so sure.
"The Winter Garden may or may not be accessible," Mr Childs told the Bristol Evening Post.
"Either way it will obscure the Banksy. It will mean it is no longer part of the public realm, which is the whole point of it.
"Banksy works in public spaces. The idea of enclosing it privatises it. It will be a huge loss to the public, particularly the community of Stokes Croft."
But project architect Matt Harrison, of White Design, in Sevier Street, St Werburgh's, said: "Members of the public will be able to walk in and out. It will be an internal public space.
"People visiting the cafe will sit next to the Banksy and it will be possible to see it from outside.
"We have worked very hard with the council and other groups to build what people want to see on this site."
The present Finance House office building, which is empty, is in front of the Hamilton House site. Both will be redeveloped in the scheme.
Mr Childs believes the pressure to build up to the line of other properties in Stokes Croft came from the city council planners.
Mr Harrison said: "There was a desire from the council to build up to the line. We have tried to create a vibrant solution that can be used throughout the year. It's not just a dead space in front of flats."
Mr Harrison acknowledged the Banksy was "an important part of Bristol's current culture" which "must be respected".
What Banksy himself will make of this debate, we are unlikely to discover. The artist – whose work now earns millions – keeps his identity closely guarded.