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Last Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006, 08:12 GMT
Debate over figures of the past
By Martin Edwards
BBC News, London

Major General Sir Henry Havelock
Major General Sir Henry Havelock led the 1857 campaign for India

The towering statue of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill sited at the north eastern corner of Parliament Square receives even less attention than the solitary anti-war protestor bracing herself against a chilly November morning.

But that has not stopped one writer calling for these statues to be torn down and replaced by more contemporary figures.

Colin Gill has co-authored a book called Topple the Mighty, where he calls for the statues around central London to be removed.

He said: "These people are mostly politicians, generals and monarchs who have carried out policies that have been pretty harmful to a lot of people such as the working classes and minorities."

He suggests figures in the labour movement or those who have fought for national freedom may better reflect the spirit of our times, rather than historical figures who are our "enemies".

The looming figure of Sir Robert Peel, founder of the Metropolitan Police should be replaced by people who have died in police custody, said Mr Gill.

You can't make any considered judgement about our future if we have no knowledge of our past so I think they are very, very important figures
Claire Bulls

Those affected by the policies of these figures should also be allowed to nominate their replacements.

But Mr Gill's ideas have been rubbished by book editor Claire Bulls who said the notion of removing the statues was "ludicrous".

She is putting together a photographic book focusing on 100 statues in central London which will also contain information about the figures represented. The project has so far taken two years and the book will be launched early 2007.

"They represent our past," she said.

"You can't make any considered judgement about our future if we have no knowledge of our past so I think they are very, very important figures."

Model of the Nelson Mandela statue
The statue has been rejected by Westminster Council

Similar arguments about the statues and their historical meaning have been waged in the past.

Most notably, the controversy over erecting a statue of Nelson Mandela pitched Mayor of London Ken Livingstone against Westminster City Council when the authority refused to grant planning permission for a statue of Mandela on the north terrace of Trafalgar Square.

The council insisted the terrace was not the best place for the 9ft statue.

The mayor accused them of being "out of touch" with the modern world.

Both sides are now in talks and hope to reach an agreed location soon.

Urban design

A statue of Mr Mandela would join the 163 pieces of figurative sculpture already in central London - many of which were designed by the leading artists of their day and are major works of art in their own right.

English Heritage, Royal Parks, Westminster City Council and private owners all have a portfolio of pieces and responsibility for maintenance cuts across them all.

It is not often that statues have ever been removed though the statue of Walter Raleigh was taken out of Whitehall to, the then, Greenwich Naval College.

The proposal to move Raleigh was made on urban design grounds.

Westminster City Council insists that any arguments based on "ideological grounds" are not considered by planning officials.

Colin Gill
Colin Gill says the statues represent people who are our "enemies".

A council spokesman said: "The vast majority of statues in Westminster are of artistic merit and historic value, and represent an important stage in the evolution of the city.

"Ideological considerations do not fall within the remit of the planning committee and arguments based on the appropriateness of the subject matter of a statue would not therefore be material considerations in a planning decision."

Hugo Minnaar tends to agree.

The 20-year-old South African had just visited the South African Embassy to replace his lost passport.

Passing time in Parliament Square among figures such as Peel, Beaconsfield and Viscount Palmerston, he considered the questions of heritage and remembrance.

"The same arguments are being had back home," he said.

"And I can see where people who want these memorials to be torn down are coming from.

"But it's part of our history. It did happen and taking them down isn't going to change that. They remind us of bad times but that's what makes today better."

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