Ross Lydall, Evening Standard, July 2, 2004
Plans to erect a statue of Nelson Mandela in Trafalgar Square have been rejected.
Westminster council last night threw out a proposal for a 9ft bronze of the anti-apartheid leader, saying it would “fail to enhance” the square.
Mayor Ken Livingstone, who made a personal plea to councillors to approve the 400,000 pound statue, announced immediate plans to appeal. The final decision now rests with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.
The Conservative-run council’s planning committee took about 90 minutes to reject the proposal after hearing in private from Mr Livingstone and Lord Attenborough, the actor and film director.
The proposal was also backed by dozens of politicians and household names ranging from the Rev Jesse Jackson to former foreign secretary Lord Howe.
So many emails were sent to the committee in support of the application that the council’s computer system crashed.
But councillors said the proposed location, on the pedestrianised North Terrace, would damage protected views of the National Gallery and St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, interfere with the flow of pedestrians and make it difficult to hold events in the square.
The committee did, however, back the principle of a Mandela statue “in an appropriate location” and suggested this would be in front of South Africa House, on the eastern edge of the square.
This would require a separate planning application and has already been rejected by the project’s backers because they feel it diminishes Mandela’s status as a world leader, relegating him to being only a South African politician.
Mr Livingstone has also said the committee would have no problem approving a statue of Margaret Thatcher and claimed its members were opposed because Mr Mandela is black.
In a statement last night, Mr Livingstone said the committee’s decision “shows how out of touch it is with public opinion”.
He added: “There is clear support from the public, politicians and public figures both here and overseas.
“I will now work hard with the sculptor, Ian Walters, and the project sponsors to try and get the statue in place, by appealing to the Secretary of State, John Prescott.”
The Mayor’s advisors said there were two grounds of appeal — the council apparently breaching its own planning guidelines, which sought to erect artworks on the North Terrace, and the danger to pedestrians if the statue was placed in front of South Africa House, adjacent to a busy road.
Lord Attenborough said he was hopeful the scheme could be amended.
“I’m not disappointed because the council said they most warmly welcomed the concept of the statue of Mandela to be erected in Trafalgar Square,” he said. “What is in debate is precisely where that should be.
“I’m concerned that this should not appear to be a statue erected and placed there at the wish and instigation of South Africa. This is a statue which is to stand as a tribute from the UK to Nelson Mandela. I think that is very important.
“We decided to ask for the north-east corner [of the square]. The fact we have not got approval for the north-east corner, but a suggestion we should in fact reapply and go in front of South Africa House, must be something we must consider.”
Comments from Readers
From: Sissy White
Don’t laugh at this absurdity…we are next. Say goodbye to statues of Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and Lee. Say hello to statues of M. L. King, Jesse Jackson and Louis Farakan. And you better learn to cry and hide it when Al Sharpton’s statue is placed on of the U.S. Capitol Dome!
From: M. Scott
They already have a Nelson statue in Trafalgar Square. It’s of Lord Horatio Nelson, the British admiral killed in action while winning the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. I have some trouble understanding why England needs a statue of Nelson Mandella, let alone in Trafalgar Square. Surely they could find ANOTHER square to put it in, if they absolutely HAVE to have one. Just as surely, South Africa could find a square of its own in one of the now-deserted (by whites) downtowns of its major cities for such a statue.