Planning rules waived for Reagan statue

Westminster allows tribute at US embassy so Baroness Thatcher and Nancy Reagan are well enough to unveil it

The Former US president Ronald Reagan is to be honoured with a bronze statue to be erected outside the American embassy in London.

Westminster City Council granted planning permission for the sculpture in Grosvenor Square despite it being criticised by a panel of experts recruited by the council to vet which works of public art can go on show.

The Reagan Memorial Trust Fund also persuaded the council to waive its "10 year rule" which states that statues can only be installed in the city 10 years after the death of the subject.

Reagan died five years ago in 2004. But the committee agreed to start the "10 year rule" from the end of Reagan's second term in office in 1989 so it can be inaugurated by Baroness Thatcher, 83 – with whom he had a close working relationship – and his wife Nancy Reagan, 87, who are in frail health.

Chas Fagan, an American artist, will sculpt the 10ft-high bronze statue which will stand on a 6ft Portland stone plinth. It will stand opposite the statue of Dwight D Eisenhower outside the embassy. However, despite having his portrait work hung in the White House and sculptures on display across the United States, Fagan's work was initially criticised by the Westminster Public Art Advisory Panel. They expressed doubts as to whether it had the "gravitas" for a project in such a prominent location. A statue of Reagan's successor, George Bush Snr, made by Fagan, stands in Houston and he is so well thought of that Mrs Reagan has reportedly worked with him to perfect the likeness of her husband.

Minutes from a behind-closed-doors meeting of the panel last summer released under the Freedom of Information Act said: "The panel were uneasy about a number of aspects of this proposal. Their concerns fell into these categories: selection of artist, quality of work and the appropriate use of the site." They added that the "pose was felt to be weak" and "the piece was felt to lack the gravitas required for [such] a distinguished subject as Reagan".

But Steve Summers, chairman of Westminster City Council's planning applications subcommittee, said: "Regardless of politics, nobody can dispute that President Reagan was a true ally of this country. During his presidency the term 'special relationship' reflected not just the close working partnership of our respective governments, but helped reinforce Britain's unquestionable cultural and historic ties with the United States.

"Subsequent presidencies have continued that unique bond between our countries so it is only right and proper we exempt President Reagan, as a former head of state, from the usual rules on statues."

Reagan, who died in 2004 aged 93, served as president between 1981 and 1989. Mr Summers added: "Those who saw the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 described the feeling in the air that night as electric, as if some great force had been let loose and it is fitting we should pay tribute to Reagan's contribution to bringing down this barrier, and subsequently changing the world."

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