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How we're getting into the billion dollar advertising industry, apparently...

I want to share a story today that is in places a bit of a negative one. It’s a project that has offered some frustration for well over a year now and although there’s ultimately been a positive resolution, there’s definitely some lessons to be taken away from the hurdles over which we’ve stumbled since its inception before the pandemic – side note, someone needs to come up with shorthand for “before the pandemic” because I have a feeling that’s a phrase we’re all going to be using a lot!

At the risk that my moaning may cause you to stop reading this, I’ll lead with the good news and what this project is all about. We’re getting a lovely piece of public art near our gallery! A “Welcome to Lucius Street” mosaic, designed by local artist Janet Ventre, inspired by the heritage of Belgravia (the name of the conservation area Lucius Street is in). Another positive before we get too far into it, is it was funded by a now ancient pot of money for cleaner high streets, awarded because the traders on the street were committed to litter picking, planting nearby flowerbeds and generally keeping the place looking clean and tidy.

Now, “ancient” may have been a slight exaggeration, but this project was conceived and fully funded well over a year ago and only in June of 2021 have we finally been able to break ground on it. Some clarifications at this point: whilst the sign if not insignificant in size it is completely manageable for a talented artist like Janet, so the 18+ month delay has not been caused by the pace of her work; in fact, to date she’s not been allowed to touch a tile for this particular piece of work.

I’m sure there are some people reading this who are blessed with significant foresight, that may already be predicting what the hold-up was. And for those out there who were thinking “planning permission” give yourself a pat on the back you’re absolutely right.

But we are also blessed with significant foresight also. Don’t think we went into this having not made that consideration. We’d confirmed the location was public land, that the sign could be installed there, that the project met with community aspirations and had confirmations from those in the know that this was not a fruitless endeavour. So it came as quite a surprise to us when at the final hour an unexpectedly large fee was required of us by the planning department…

Our sign, it turned out, had been deemed to be an “advert” by planning standards, despite having no mention of any of the traders or businesses on the street and its focus being the heritage of the area. What if we removed the “Welcome to Lucius Street” text? Still an advert we were told.

The point was debated for several months, the funding did not stretch to include the planning fee, plus a site visit and drawing from an architect to show the location and elevation the offending piece of art; heaven forbid its size might be so excessive as to cause a blot on the horizon.

After nearly a year we relented. We begged a friendly architect to assist us with the plans and put up the money for the planning application ourselves. Add in another few weeks of delays for the planning portal seemingly not having the categorisation we were told we fell into, and a further few months or so of the application not being made live for public comment and we arrive at the start of June and the final, perhaps most frustrating, twist in the tale.

A chase had been made in an attempt to ascertain why our application had not been made live. The response was a phone call, an apology, a refund, and with it all an acknowledgement that we should never have been required to submit a planning application for the project in the first place, we could go ahead and start producing our sign. Over a year on from being ready to get underway, we were right back where we started.

This isn’t intended to be a dig at the council and their planning team, we understand why these processes exist, to protect conservation areas, green spaces, listed buildings and generally keep Torbay a lovely place to live. But the whole situation shows up a flaw that so many are guilty of and that’s a lack of creative thinking. Throughout this whole debacle, our project was being put inside a box simply because there was a process that said it had to be. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t a box with the right label on, it still had to go in a box. If only some “outside of the box” thinking had been available…

The important part of course is that we got there. Our project can now go ahead, and we’re excited to see it installed hopefully in the not-too-distant future. But at present we are embarking on another programme of work and the warning signs are there of a similarly inflexible approach. So this story isn’t so much a complaint but a reminder, that sometimes we need to approach things differently. I’m not saying throw caution to the wind and chuck the rule book out with it, but perhaps it’s ok to have a healthy recognition that in a world with infinite possibilities sometimes the answers won’t be written down. When we find ourselves in these positions, we don’t have to see it as a problem, but instead an opportunity for a creative solution.



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