The Giant's Chair
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Today, having had one of those days when you wished you had taken a 'duvet day' I came home and checked my emails to find the following:
'Think the site is great and dip into it all the time. Wandered if you were going to do an article on the chair down the footpath from Jay's Grave. I'm sure people would like to know about it even if it is a temporary construction. You can even see it on Google Earth. cheers Alistair'.
Now, I had never heard of a chair on Dartmoor never mind one that could be seen from Google earth and so, rather sceptically, I logged on to the 'eye in the sky' and began a search around the Jay's Grave area. Sure enough just by Natsworthy stands what appears to be a giant's chair, you can even pick out the shadow on the ground. So, as Alistair's email suggested here is some information on The Giant's Chair of Natsworthy.
It appears that the chair is classed as a sculpture and the whole purpose of it was to create a landmark which celebrated the natural environment. In addition it was hoped that the chair would provide an opportunity for the appreciation of the special qualities of the local landscape and to engender a sense of joy and laughter for anyone seeing it. The intention of the sculpture's design was for it to be harmonious with the landscape. Only locally sourced, hand hewn green oak was used for the 6 metre high chair which was jointed using the old, traditional mortise and tenon joints. The location was chosen because it provided a spot where people could stop and stare at the wide-spreading moorland landscape below. As with most works of art there is an underlying message and in this case it is one of ambiguity, that being the unattainable. The sculpture can be recognised as a chair but because of its size it is impossible to sit upon it - I want doesn't get.
The Giant's Chair appeared sometime in late 2006 and went before the Dartmoor National Park Authority's planning committee as a retrospective application on the 2nd of March 2007. The committee expressed some concern insomuch as they thought the sculpture may result in traffic congestion caused by visitors and that their numbers could impact on the area. In view of this the sculpture was granted planning permission for a period of two years with 3 conditions attached. Firstly, the sculpture must be removed by the 2nd of March 2009, secondly, the timberwork should remain in its natural condition which means the wood can't be treated. The third and final condition was that there is to be no means of access to the site which includes any form of gate and stile, in other words, visitors cannot get anywhere near it. Which seems a typical National Park Authority piece of nonsense, why shouldn't people be able to enjoy both the sculpture and the view? There was one understatement, according to the committee, 'the sculpture is visible from many near and distant views' - yeah, dead right, according to Google Earth - space!
It will be interesting to see what happens next March, will the Giant's Chair of Natsworthy' get a stay of execution? Having now visited the chair I cannot help comparing the sculpture with the prehistoric cairns insomuch both are sited in locations which afford spectacular moorland vistas. This chair clearly marks the landowner's territory with a statement as perhaps the ancient cairns did of old, they could both be suggesting the same idea, stop, stare, and enjoy the landscape. As you can see from the 3D topographical photograph below, a better location in the local landscape could not be chosen. The ridge upon which it sits compels the eye to look down the southern valley towards Widecombe-in-the-Moor.
This by the way is not the only example of a giant chair, there is one which is part of a series of sculptures along a trail in the Forest of Dean. Finally, many thanks to Alistair for suggesting this web page and the Google Earth information.
I know this is very hypercritical of me but please note - this sculpture is on private land!
On Friday the 6th of March the Development Management Committee of the Dartmoor National Park Authority met to discuss various planning issues, one of them was the fate of the 'Giant's Chair'. As noted above, the sculpture had been erected without planning consent and was due to be removed in March of this year. A planning application had been submitted by the land owner to get a stay of execution for the chair to remain in its current location. There were no comments or objections raised by the district council, parish council, or several other interested parties. There were however 10 letters of complaint recieved from individuals who were:
'Concerned that the sculpture has become a theme park attraction, drawing large numbers of visitors and detracting from the character and tranquillity of this part of the National Park. This has led to traffic congestion on the highway and the collapse of the dry stone wall along the public bridleway. Instances of local vandalism have also been cited. Many of the objectors are not opposed to the structure, but feel it would be better sited in a location within the National Park which has good parking and amenity facilities,'.
However, it was considered that the 'chair' did not, 'have a detrimental impact on the appearance of the area' and was not deemed to, 'present an incongruous feature or detract from its local setting or wider landscape'. The increase in visitor numbers to the 'chair' was said to have been possibly due to, 'a good deal of recent press coverage, information being made on the internet and also awareness being raised through the submission of this planning application'. The report also acknowledges that, 'nearly 6,000 people have logged their interest in this development on a well known social networking website', by which they mean the Facebook campaign. The upshot of this debate was that the Development Management Committee recommended that full planning permission for the Giant's Chair be granted on two conditions. Firstly that all timber is to remain in its natural and untreated state and secondly that should it lapse into a state of repair then it has to be removed.
However, on the 22nd of April 2009 the 'Mad Hatter' held his tea party and it was decided to REFUSE the planning application for the Giant's Chair to remain insitu. The reasons for this ludicrous decision were:
'The proposed development would result in additional traffic movements along lanes that are of inadequate width and alignment to satisfactorily cater for the increase in use, and as a consequence, would be contrary to policy TR10 of the Devon Structure Plan Document, the Dartmoor National Park Authority Core Strategy Development Plan Document, in particular COR21, and to the advice contained in Planning Policy Statement numbers 1 and 7.
The site is inadequate to accommodate an area for the parking of vehicles off the highway with consequent risk of additional danger to all road users and interference with the free flow of traffic, contrary to policy TR10 of the Devon Structure Plan Document, the Dartmoor National Park Authority Core Strategy Development Plan Document, in particular COR21, and to the advice contained in Planning Policy Statement numbers 1 and 7'.
Both documents were signed by the same person - Chris France who seems to have made a drastic 'U' turn in his/hers recommendations during the space of 6 weeks. It is also interesting to note that in the first report it stated: 'It should be noted that no objections are raised by the Highway Authority and on balance it is not considered that the sculpture results in any harm to planning interests'. To put this into context, The Devon Structure Plan Document policy TR10 states:
'Devon's road network will be maintained and enhanced in such a way to minimise the impact of traffic, reduce congestion, improve safety, promote environmental and economic enhancement and maximise operational efficiency', (p.95).
From what I can find the salient points of the lengthy Dartmoor National Park Authority Core Strategy Development Plan Document concerning COR21 are as follows:
'The main priorities are: minimising the impact of visitor traffic, encouraging visitors to use the alternatives to the private car, improving public transport, improving cycling opportunities, reducing the impact of heavy good vehicles, further improving road safety and driver awareness, improving access for the less mobile and improving design standards for road schemes.', (p.63).
Finally Planning Policy Statements 1 states:
'Planning permission will not be granted for development that would: (i) be unsuited to its location relative to the Dartmoor Route Network, (ii) conflict with standard, nature, capacity and function of local roads and (iii) result in a material increase in the level or a change in the type of traffic generated which would thereby prejudice road safety.'.
So as can be seen, if using the increased traffic argument there are several guidelines which would condone refusing planning permission for the 'Giant's Chair'. However there are no statistics to indicate the level of increase caused by visitors to the location so how can a judgement be made? Is it acceptable just to assume that traffic has/will increase and that the lack of parking is/will be a problem? There are two fundamental points here. First and foremost the famous Jay's Grave stands at the entrance to the footpath that leads to the Giant's Chair. If you do an advanced Google search for 'Jay's Grave Dartmoor' you will get 101 results if you do the same search for 'Giant's Chair Dartmoor you will get 8 results. Both locations would be accessed by using the same parking spot, therefore what are people visiting, the grave or the chair? Secondly, just 0.733 miles down the road is a huge car park that even has a catering facility in it, why not simply put several large boulders on the roadside where people are currently parking, thus effectively stopping that problem and signpost the existing carpark to get people to park there?
I would love to know why there has been such a dramatic reversal of decisions on this matter and who made it. Maybe the answer is for the landowner could come up with another sculpture or feature that did not need planning permission. That way the same ends as far as the landscape appreciation would be achieved, perhaps something like a circle of rowan trees would do the trick and call it the 'sacred grove'. See what objections the 'Mad Hatter' could come up with then.
Devon County Council, 2009. Devon's Structure Plan - Transport. Online Source - HERE
DNPA. 2009. Planning Portal. Online Source - HERE
DNPA. 2009. Planning Application - Retention of Existing Chair Sculpture, pp. 33 - 35. Online Source - HERE
DNPA. 2009. Refusal of Planning Application. Online Source - HERE.
DNPA. 2008. Local Development Framework Core Strategy Development Plan Document 2006 - 2026. Online Source - HERE
At the recent 'Mad Hatter's Tea Party' on the 9th of August 2009 it was noted that the chair was still insitu and allegedly it was still there on the same day. This prompted discussions between the landowner and the relevant people from the planning department after which it was decided at the above meeting that, 'the appropriate legal action be taken to secure the removal of the chair sculpture from the land.' Not long ago I recieved the following email:
'Forgive the intrusion but I wonder if you could let me know the fate of the Natsworthy Chair? I cannot find anyone who can let me know the address/email/tel. number of the owner? I would be interested in contacting them as we have a place for it to go , outside the park but on the moor. Regards - Delamore Arts.'
Maybe, as a second option this might be a way of saving the chair? It certainly won't have the same impact but as it seems the 'Mad Hatter' has firmly stuffed the metaphorical dormouse into the teapot it may be a solution? I tell you, take a look at the minutes of the various meetings of the Dartmoor National Park Authority (on their website), it's amazing with all the other garbage they are waffling about (sustainability, carbon footprints, corporate image etc) that they still have the time to flex their muscles on a harmless matter like this? I would love to see the legal costs should they have to take action over the chair, it would probably come to more than the expense of providing parking signage as suggested above. Mind you, they have just saved themselves £1,000 a year by opting for four new ranger's vehicles in a silver livery as opposed to the current one, perhaps that's where the money is coming from?
Good news - on the 18th of August 2009 an application for temporary planning permission was lodged with the Dartmoor National Park Authority. Bad news (for the landowner) - it cost £170. The gist of this application was that there was only one person objecting to the chair on the grounds of traffic levels and that objection has been withdrawn. The landowner has also made the very valid point that most of people that do park at Natsworthy Gate are in fact walking up to Hameldon as their main destination. This application is due before the planning committee on the 4th of October 2009. Perhaps this is a way for the DNPA to relent on their previous decision without losing face, we will see?
As expected, on the 22nd of July 2010 the Giant's Chair was dismantled and removed from its site under instructions from the Dartmoor National Park Authority - a sad day indeed! It has been muted that the chair may find a home in nearby Haldon Forest if sufficient funds can be found for its relocation.