'One of the Highlights of My Life is Being Called a Pagan Pornographer'

'One of the Highlights of My Life is Being Called a Pagan Pornographer'
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The ‘Lady of the North’, Northumberlandia, has been hailed by her supporters as an iconic gateway for the region, attracting visitors from all around the world, writes Matteo Civillini.

Standing 34 metres high and 470 metres long, the £3m landform sculpture in the shape of a reclining nude female sits proudly at the centre of Matt Ridley’s Blagdon Estate.

But was this really the best way of providing benefit to a community that would have to reluctantly accommodate the largest surface mine in England in its own backyard?

The brainchild of American artist Charles Jencks, Northumberlandia was proposed by Banks Mining as a fitting compensation for the disruption forced upon the local people by the creation of the adjacent, ongoing Shotton opencast coal mine. The Lady of the North now gives visitors a birds-eye view of the mining operations.


Aerial view of The Lady. Photo: Oliver Dixon via Creative Commons

And now Lord Ridley – on whose land the Shotton mine sits – is about to open up two more areas for mining, while promising further benefits to the local community.

Ridley has previously described ‘the Lady’ as “inspired, beautiful, useful and unique” but documents submitted by various opposition parties, including the Northumberland County Council, as part of the application process, and seen by DeSmog UK, paint a startlingly different picture. 

‘Glorified Mound’

Putting particular emphasis on the semi-pornographic nature of the project, residents did not hesitate to underline that “a naked woman does not represent what Northumberland is about.”

Northumberlandia has been met with nothing but derision and laughter by the population of Cramlington and the North East,” the protest group SCRAM (Support Cramlington Residents Against Mining) argued in its representation. 

It is nothing more than a glorified overburdened mound which would only be visible as a sculpted landform from the air.”

Banks Mining’s much-trumpeted claim that the landform would “become a recreational destination on a regional if not national basis” was similarly brushed away. 

According to the report, in fact, there was no shortage of existing green spaces which the population of Cramlington, or any passing visitor, had free access to. 

As SCRAM bluntly put it: “The recreational opportunity offered by Northumberlandia is not required by the local community.”

Negative Response

Further controversy surrounded the provisions of the Section 106 undertaking. If previous examples were followed, £0.10 per tonne of coal extracted from the mine would have gone towards community benefit. In the Shotton case, this should have amounted to £350,000, but, as Northumberland County Council pointed out, the figure Banks Mining proposed to commit towards maintenance costs was significantly lower (£250,000). 

The ‘Rational Optimist’ Matt Ridley did not seem particularly pleased with the negative emotions aroused by the art project and took to his Times column to hit back at the critics.


The Lady as she sleeps. Photo: Brendan Montague

Britain is so full of Nimbys that even new, free, public parks get criticised,” he wrote in September 2012, just days before the grand opening of Northumberlandia. “The most negative response came from a rare species hitherto not recorded breeding in this bit of Northumberland: a Tory councillor.”

The man he was referring to was Wayne Daley, Councillor for Cramlington North and a strong opponent of the Shotton mine. The matter in contention was his scathing criticism of the highly-publicised ‘Restoration First’ approach.

Banks Mining and Blagdon Estate had in fact proudly argued that this represented a unique opportunity to deliver benefit to the community in the early stages of the development, rather than at the end of the operations.  

‘Pagan Pornographer’

In response, Cllr Daley pointed out that the landform was nothing more than a “clever” way for Banks Mining to save money on clearing the mining spoil.

As the sculpture was shaped from the rock, earth and clay of the Shotton surface mine, the company could have gained an apparent advantage by removing the material from the site only once. 

While Ridley took the matter to heart, the criticism sparked a far more ironic reaction from his late father, the Viscount Ridley. 

Asked about his views on the Northumberlandia project in 2012, he said: “One of the highlights of my life is being called a pagan pornographer.”

@m_civillini

Photo: Adam Leadbetter via Flickr

'One of the Highlights of My Life is Being Called a Pagan Pornographer'

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