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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 14:04 GMT
'There is no Ebbsfleet'
Looking for life in Ebbsfleet...

A 2m, 50-metre sculpture has been commissioned to represent the huge regeneration scheme in north Kent. The BBC's David Sillito visits the site and asks whether it will live up to its grand ambition.

"There is no Ebbsfleet, it's a train station and that's it. That's all Ebbsfleet is. There is no Ebbsfleet".

So says Danielle, who works in a pub opposite Ebbsfleet United's football ground, a fact that might suggest there is a place called Ebbsfleet.

But she is adamant this place is Northfleet, nearby is Gravesend and Swanscombe. Ebbsfleet does not exist.

Well, it will do soon, and it will begin with a huge monument to mark it out as the gateway to the South.

EBBSFLEET PAST & FUTURE
Ebbsfleet Valley plans
When finished (above) Ebbsfleet Valley will house the same population as Chichester
The new town will cover an area of three Hyde Parks
Ebbsfleet River is of historical importance, sacred to the Celts
Anglo-Saxon mill and Roman villa found in excavations
Station has seven services to Paris a day, five to Brussels
Not to be confused with the other Ebbsfleet, in Thanet, where St Augustine landed on his mission to convert Anglo-Saxon Kent to Christianity
Five artists have been asked to design a sculpture measuring 50 metres (165 ft) that will be visible from road, rail and air.

An estimated 40 million people a year will ride past it on trains and in cars, and the landmark must create a sense of pride and belonging for the planned new town of Ebbsfleet. Ten thousand homes are being built in the next 20 years as part of a huge regeneration project.

But at the moment, when you step out of Ebbsfleet International station all there is is a digger on some green hills, some old industrial land where a cement works used to be, a methane burner on the site of an old landfill site and in the far distance, in a forest of pylons, a little promontory where the artwork will be.

And that's why it has to be so high, to be seen in amongst those pylons.

Unloved

Developer Stephen Jordan says the landmark will be a gamble.

"It's a bit like getting a tattoo, it's a major statement for the future, you could live to regret it but you could be delighted with it."

On one display at the new Ebbsfleet railway station, it is compared to the Sphinx and the Statue of Liberty - this gateway to Britain will be Kent's answer to the Angel of the North.

Angel of the North
The Angel of the North proved critics wrong
So no pressure for the shortlisted artists, one of whom is Turner Prize winner, Rachel Whiteread.

"Well I don't think you have to create something they're going to love because I think of the example of the Angel of the North, which wasn't loved when it was first built," she says.

"People were up in arms about it but then it's become loved and it's become an icon of north east England."

This is art with a social purpose and the people will be consulted - at least, the nearby people will be - but in neighbouring Northfleet, art didn't appear to be on the top of the agenda.

Jim is the caretaker at the Hive. It's a block of flats and a parade of shops that will have the best view of the new artwork. He is not impressed.

We believe the football club is one thing that the local people can shout about
Roly Edwards
Ebbsfleet Utd
"Just a waste of money. Why can't they do something over here for these people around here?"

And on the topic of fostering local pride and community spirit there was little enthusiasm for any new sculpture.

Outside the newsagents, when asked if there was any community spirit, the answer was: "Plenty of drugs, if that's what you want to know. Too many yobs around here vandalising and that."

But the football team is excited. It's been paid by the developers to abandon its old name, Gravesend and Northfleet, and the club's director, Roly Edwards is looking forward to 40,000 new residents cheering on Ebbsfleet United.

"There isn't a great deal in the area to shout about. We believe the football club is one thing that the local people can shout about."

Making a community

A lot of people weren't too happy about the name change, he concedes, but he hopes some of the more "forward-thinking people" are beginning to come on board and realise why it's been done.

Is this a glimmer of Ebbsfleet pride? Ben Ruse, from the development team, hopes so. He says they are trying to avoid creating another soulless dormitory for London.

In the past they might have just built some houses and left it at that, nowadays the buzz phrase is "placemaking" and that involves trying to create the intangible things that turn a place you live into a place you care about.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The sculpture should be a symbol for the people
Kutz, UK

"You can't make a community. Community comes from the heart. All we can do is give it the best start possible."

And a 50-metre piece of art will help?

"Oh, I think all sorts of things have a very important role to play in that but certainly yes, helping put Ebbsfleet on the map, giving it a sense of pride, giving it a totem."

So icon first, town second.

Building houses, you see, is easy. Building a place that people care about is rather harder.



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