Scrap men sharpen saws for giant A1 angel statue

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The Independent Online
The Angel of the North, Anthony Gormley's pounds 800,000 steel and copper statue set to overshadow the A1 at Gateshead, is being eagerly awaited - by local scrap metal merchants.

Opposition to the statue - which one year ago Mr Gormley said would cost nearer pounds 300,000 - is particularly fierce among residents of Gateshead's Elizabethville Estate, known locally as the Bronx. They will live literally in the giant sculpture's shadow and they view the angel as a reminder of council neglect: in the last five years increasing numbers of houses have been boarded up because copper piping has been ripped out by some locals within hours of the homes being vacated.

The Arts Council's recent pounds 584,000 lottery grant for the sculpture has prompted residents once again to voice their resentment to local councillors. Liberal Councillor Kathy King said: "Local scrap lads are ringing me to find out what it will be made of, and they assured me that this statue would no sooner be up than they had it down. They see it as a challenge and insult, and they are quite determined to see it vandalised and brought down."

When one local scrap merchant, Kevin,aged 28, found out that the 65ft- high angel will be made of steel and copper, he said: "Great. . . we'll have to steal the copper."

Another, Billy, is outraged both by the look of the angel and its cost: "It's not an angel, man, it's an ugly aeroplane stood on its tail. Why does we have to look at something so ugly every day?" As Billy talks about his new neighbour, a child molester who exposes himself from his bedroom window, a builder drives up: "The angel? Let's get out the steel- saws, lads," he laughs.

If it happens, the angel will not be the first Gormley sculpture to be vandalised by dissenting locals, according to David Lee, editor of Art Review. "In London- derry, he constructed a Janus figure looking both ways - one head towards the Catholic community and the other towards the Protestants. People just didn't like it and so it came down after a couple of years," he said. Before it was taken down, however, vandals placed burning rubber tyres around the sculpture's two necks.

Fears are also growing in Labour-controlled Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council that the final cost of the project will be well in excess of the current pounds 800,000 figure. Ove Arup & Partners - the consulting engineers who completed the Sydney Opera House - were appointed by Gateshead Council last spring after they clinched the contract in a one-horse race.

Basing their plans on Gormley's 5ft wood maquette of the statue - which cost pounds 30,000 - their first task was to produce a feasibility and design report. This is thought to have cost GMBC in the region of pounds 20,000.

Gormley's original estimate evidently omitted to allow for the high cost of foundations which will prevent the 100-ton structure from toppling over either onto the A1 motorway or nearby Eighton Lodge old peoples' home. In its report Ove Arup recommends planting massive concrete piles 22 metres deep to secure the angel.This stabilising - capable , the engineers say, of withstanding 100mph winds - will cost at least pounds 200,000 and all remaining funds will be spent on landscaping the immediate area into an accessible tourist spot.

Ove Arup estimates that the angel will attract 150,000 visitors a year, but have not yet considered the possibility of scrap dealers helping themselves. "Gateshead will have to think of that [on-site security]," said director Mike Brown. "Removing the steel will be very difficult, though, because you'd need heavy cutting equipment to get through the steel ribs. The statue is in open view, so I think it's impractical for that to happen."

Work on the angel is scheduled to be completed by March next year.