Leading Article: Putting public gain above private prejudice

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The Independent Online
COUNCILLOR Eric Flounders made a fair point in his letter on this page yesterday: it was thanks to a decision by Bow Neighbourhood Committee and its Parks Board that Rachel Whiteread's House found a site on which to be created. The same committee laid down a timetable for the site to be cleared. The wisdom of Cllr Flounders' references to House as 'utter rubbish' (in an earlier letter) and 'experimental nonsense' may be questioned. But it is indubitably within the letter and spirit of the committee's decision and the resulting contract that demolition, already overdue, should go ahead.

What committee members did not know when they took their original decision was the extraordinary impact that House would have. By using a derelict house as a mould for the creation of a concrete image, Ms Whiteread did something that was - at least on this scale - utterly new. More importantly, it proved unexpectedly moving, and was soon widely hailed as one of the most imaginative public sculptures of our times.

A steady stream of visitors, some from distant corners of the country, made their way to the junction of Roman Road and Grove Road, by which it stands. Naturally, not everyone liked what they saw, and local opinion was deeply divided. Yet many found themselves curiously touched by the spectral presence of this remarkable work.

On Tuesday its creator won not just the pounds 20,000 Turner Prize but a pounds 40,000 prize from the self-styled K Foundation, set up by a pop group, for the 'worst body of work' of the past 12 months: questionable accolades both, yet tributes to Ms Whiteread's ability to arouse strong feelings and provoke often thoughtful controversy.

It is odd that Cllr Flounders, who belongs to that strange political sub- species, the Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrat, should be unable to see that to retain House might be in the best interests of both the neighbourhood and borough that they serve. House must already have brought hundreds of people to an area they would otherwise never visit. That flow would probably be maintained for months, if not years. To remove a source both of prestige and some modest added local trade seems perverse, self-defeating and illiberal. Cllr Flounders and those who voted with him seem to be putting personal prejudice above public gain.