Larne’s jubilee crown is at the centre of a new planning row after a nationalist councillor branded it “kitsch” and “in utterly poor taste”.
Ballymena SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan made the comments ahead of a Mid and East Antrim Borough Council planning committee meeting on Thursday which may determine the future of the controversial Circular Road roundabout feature.
Officials have recommended approval of the council’s request for permanent planning permission, but Mr O’Loan urged the committee to reject the recommendation.
“I want to make it clear that my view is not based on any political grounds,” he said.
“It is entirely based on my assessment of the crown in terms of design quality or aesthetics. I think that it is unquestionably a piece of kitsch and in utterly poor taste. It is like something that came out of a giant Christmas cracker, intended to be discarded after the first laugh.”
While professing himself to be “a strong supporter of good public art”, Mr O’Loan said that in his view “this object does not come into that category.”
In a letter to the council’s planning department, he said that “the best term to describe the crown is as a piece of kitsch, usefully defined as ‘something considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality’.”
He added: “Sometimes a piece of kitsch can be so awful that it takes on a certain weird charm, but I don’t think that even that redeeming characteristic applies here.”
DUP Alderman Gregg McKeen condemned Mr O’Loan’s stance as mere political point-scoring. “I think he is using this to try and get across a political point that he doesn’t want the crown there,” he told the Larne Times.
“What it stands for and represents is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. He is trying to bring in a planning argument to try and score overall political points.”
Mr McKeen, who sits on the planning committee, said: “It’s his opinion that the design is poor taste, it’s his perception and that isn’t a valid planning reason for refusal.”
UUP Alderman Maureen Morrow, who was mayor of Larne when the crown was first erected, said she was “very disappointed” by Mr O’Loan’s stance, adding: “I have never had a complaint from people in Larne, it’s always from people outside of this area and this is outside Mr O’Loan’s area.
“It’s ridiculous he has taken that stance. The crown is maybe not to everyone’s taste but it has brought tourism, it’s a feature and it was built by the youth of Larne at Larne Skills Development.
“It has never been damaged or vandalised so it’s not upsetting the people of Larne. It’s a big tourism pull and I don’t see any reason it should be removed.”
TUV councillor Ruth Wilson branded Mr O’Loan’s remarks “divisive” and said they were “only a stunt stirring up resentment and division in Larne town and the surrounding local community”.
Daniel Crawford, who created the “Like to Save Larne’s Crown” Facebook page in support of retaining the structure, accused Mr O’Loan of electioneering and demanded that he apologise to the loyalist community for his remarks.
“The crown means a lot to the people of this town,” he said.
“It makes Larne different from every other town, it’s our own wee landmark that people know from all over Northern Ireland.”
The eight-metre high structure, designed and created by Larne Skills Development, was put in place without planning permission shortly before the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June, 2012. Temporary planning permission, which was gained retrospectively, is due to expire on December 1.