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Banner masts to go in city's revamp scheme

SIX controversial masts in Chester's historic Town Hall square could soon be removed as part of a city centre revamp.

SIX controversial masts in Chester's historic Town Hall square could soon be removed as part of a city centre revamp.

The nautical masts, flying giant colourful banners, have been one of the most distinctive features of the square since they were put in place two years ago.

They have been used to publicise forthcoming events and shows for the benefit of tourists and residents.

Supporters of the masts say they are a vital promotional tool for tourism and lend a continental feel to one of Chester's most important public spaces.

But the masts have also been criticised on the grounds that they clutter up the square and interfere with the view of the Town Hall, the cathedral and other key buildings.

Now city council bosses are to consider plans to remove four of the masts in front of the civic buildings, with the remaining two, which stand in front of the Forum council building, also likely to be removed or relocated.

The move comes as council planners consider a £185m scheme to redevelop the area around Northgate Street into a centre of commerce and leisure.

This includes major changes to Town Hall square which would see the library relocated and the Gateway Theatre knocked down and replaced by a new building elsewhere in the city.

Council officers say the proposal to remove the masts has in part arisen in response to public opinion.

A report to council cabinet members said: "Of the six masts in the Town Hall square, it is intended to remove the four in front of the Town Hall. The two in front of the Forum entrance will be retained for the moment and will continue to provide a function for the display of event banners."

But the masts remain popular with events organisers who book them for high-profile advertising.

Over the few months, the masts will be used to promote Chester Market, Chester College, the Gateway Theatre, Grosvenor Museum, Chester Literature Festival and Chester Tree Festival.

The city council intends to honour these bookings and the masts would be removed in early January and stored at a council depot on Bumpers Lane.

The masts were originally designed to reflect Chester's nautical origins and its historical role as a medieval port.

The initial debate on the project split the city council down the middle and its former cultural development officer Peter Figurado, who oversaw the project, was heavily criticised by objectors at the time.

Council leader John Price and deputy leader David Evans were last night unavailable for comment.

One city councillor, who did not wish to be named, said: "This debate has been going on for a long time.

"There are people who think the masts obscure the view of the cathedral for tourists and that, with all the lampposts and bollards in the square, they are just cluttering it up even more.

"Personally, I rather like them. They are a very distinctive part of Chester city centre. They have a nautical theme which recalls the days when the River Dee was a navigable river."

The Cabinet will decide the fate of the masts at a meeting on Thursday. k


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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