An unauthorised mural which received a wave of public support after town planners said it harmed the conservation area with the highest concentration of listed buildings outside of London is to be kept.
Richmondshire District Council’s planning committee voted to approve a retrospective planning application for artist Jackie Stubbs’ painting of a sheepdog behind a drystone wall and sheep in a meadow on grade II listed York House antiques at the Frenchgate corner of Richmond Market Place.
The meeting heard officers state how 3,100 people had signed a petition supporting keeping the mural before highlighting the prominence of the 18th century building in the largely Georgian town centre.
Officers underlined it was the planning authority’s responsibility to protect the town’s heritage.
Councillors were told while any decision they made must seek to preserve any listed building and its setting, planners had concluded the mural “can’t possibly enhance the historic significance of the building”.
However, Christine Swift, the owner of York House Antiques, said her store was “a true destination shop, one that Richmondshire should be proud of” and the mural had made a “very dull entrance” into the town centre more welcoming and a magnet for tourists.
She added: “With a massive retail park and the country’s largest garden centre planned for Scotch Corner, Richmond needs all it can muster to bring tourists to our town.”
Responding to criticism that the artwork did not relate to Richmond, artist Jackie Stubbs related how key sheep skin dealers had been to the town’s development in becoming an important centre for the wool trade.
The meeting heard passions were running high among some residents after Richmond District Civic Society had claimed granting permission would create an “alarming precedent for other property owners to produce quasi-public art that could deface the town”.
Nevertheless, Richmond councillors said while Richmond’s heritage needed to be preserved, the town’s buildings and businesses needed to be given leeway to adapt sensitively to the future rather than pretend to be still in the Georgian era.
They said the mural was clearly in the public interest, emphasising how much joy it had brought since it was painted nearly three years ago.
The councillors also questioned why the council was targeting a mural when signs for multinational companies had been allowed to go unchallenged in the Market Place.
Councillor Philip Wicks said: “There seems to be whiff of double standards in play here.”
Ahead of the mural being passed, the meeting heard councillors question whether such action would have been taken if street artist Banksy had been responsible for the mural.