Fourth plinth is reserved for the Queen

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The mystery of Trafalgar Square's empty plinth is solved. A statue of the monarch on horseback will be commissioned after her death, James Macintyre reveals

The fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is being kept free for a statue of the Queen riding a horse which will be commissioned after she dies, say senior officials.

The plan sheds new light on why the plinth has never had a full-time occupant and has been used recently to showcase the work of modern artists. It also explains why the Mayor of London, who has been informed of the plan, recently performed a mysterious U-turn on proposals for a permanent statue to be placed on the monument, blaming "complex planning issues".

Even the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, which oversees what goes on to the famous space in the central London square, is believed to have been kept in the dark over the decision.

Between 1841 and 1999 there was nothing on the fourth plinth, which was sometimes referred to as the "empty plinth", before a string of modern designs adorned the space.

"It's perfect," a source said of the rotation system. "The modern art world doesn't want a permanent statue up there, and nor does the establishment."

Although the Department for Culture would not comment last night, four well-placed sources confirmed the long-standing decision to The Independent.

No single person took the decision, and those involved would not discuss it publicly, but in recent years the desire for a monument to the Queen has been the subject of discussion between No 10, the Palace and the local authorities.

One person from City Hall familiar with the discussions said the plan was for Her Majesty to be depicted riding. "The plinth is wide enough and perfectly shaped for Her Majesty on horseback," the source said.

The revelation explains why theformer mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and his successor, Boris Johnson, would not commit to a permanent monument on the plinth in the north-west corner of Trafalgar Square by Nelson's Column.

In May, Mr Johnson withdrew his previous support for a permanent statue honouring the Battle of Britain hero Sir Keith Park. Before he was elected, Mr Johnson said he supported a campaign by Terry Smith, the chief executive of a City brokerage, to honour Mr Park, a New Zealand-born RAF commander seen as an unsung Second World War hero.

Later, in a written answer to a question from Jennette Arnold, a Labour member of the London Assembly, Mr Johnson supported the arrangement by which the plinth is reserved for contemporary sculptures which only stay in place for a year or two. Mr Johnson, who by this time had been told of the plan to honour the Queen, wrote of Mr Park: "The fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square would be a wonderful spot, but it appears complex planning issues would make it difficult to secure this location on an ongoing basis."

He went on: "There are also outstanding commitments to exhibit contemporary sculpture on the fourth plinth. I recognise that this revolving programme has proved very popular with the public and I welcome the important contribution it has made in shaping public debate about contemporary art. I am therefore exploring, with the Keith Park campaign, what is the best option available for them in view of these circumstances."

"It's as if Boris was told the nuclear secret," a source said.

Technically, the Greater London Authority is responsible for what is placed on the plinth, and Westminster City Council is in charge of granting planning permission for any proposed designs.

Last night, the chairman of the Planning Briefs Committee on Westminster council, Alastair Moss, said: "At present no planning applications have been submitted to us by the Mayor's office regarding the fourth plinth."

Although the Queen has been painted by a variety of artists, from Lucian Freud and 28-year-old Christian Furr to more traditional painters, there are no statues of her in the capital. The only statue in the UK is in Windsor Great Park and was produced by the Crown Estate to mark the Golden Jubilee.

There are, however, several statues of the Queen on horseback abroad. In Ottawa, the capital of Canada, the Queen is depicted on her horse, Centenial, the former Royal Canadian Mounted Police horse officially presented to her in 1977. The monument, unveiled as part of Canada's 125th anniversary celebrations, was created over two years by the artist Jack Harman and a staff of 10 others.

In Saskatchewan, the sculptor Susan Velder portrayed her riding her favourite horse, Burmese, with a bronze statue in honour of the 50th anniversary of her reign. The statue, which features a black Canadian mare ridden by the Queen on 18 consecutive birthday parades, was unveiled by the monarch in 2005.

As well as its centrality, another reason why the Trafalgar Square plinth is seen as the best spot for a statue honouring the Queen is that water saturation levels in London mean there are few locations that are suitable for prestigious new statues.

One senior Whitehall source suggested that, with the plan now in the public domain, the authorities should erect the fourth plinth statue now, while the Queen is still alive. "She certainly deserves it," the source said.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine