Star of Caledonia sculpture can pay ‘for itself’

THE multi-million pound bill for a controversial new star-shaped landmark set to be created at the border between Scotland and England will almost be recouped every year from tourism spin-offs, its backers claim.
A model of the "Star of Caledonia", a soon-to-be constructed near Gretna. Picture: Colin HattersleyA model of the "Star of Caledonia", a soon-to-be constructed near Gretna. Picture: Colin Hattersley
A model of the "Star of Caledonia", a soon-to-be constructed near Gretna. Picture: Colin Hattersley

The giant Star of Caledonia sculpture in Gretna is expected to be seen around around 10 million motorists, their passengers and rail commuters every year.

Experts called in to analyse the potential impact of the 40-metres tall work of art have predicted it could boost the area to the tune of £16 million in its first year.

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And the proposed new “gateway to Scotland” would be used to promote Dumfriesshire internationally as a home of world-class environmental art. Comparisons have been drawn with Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which attracts 250,000 visitors a year.

But the project - partly inspired by the pioneering electromagnetic work of Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell - has been delayed due to problems raising the £4.8 million costs of constructing the work of art, which is roughly twice the size of the famous “Angel of the North” in Gateshead and would also be much higher than the 30 metres tall Kelpies horse head sculptures in Falkirk.

The project has been in development for more than a decade and winner of a major design contest to boost tourism in Dumfriesshire was unveiled almost three years ago, with the work due to be completed in time for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer.

The project would see a huge star-shaped sculpture placed on top of a new “landform” next to the M74 motorway, adjacent to the River Sark and will be lit up at night-time to help raise awareness of the area’s status in being home the first “Dark Sky Park” in Europe.

The Star of Caledonia has been designed by American-born landscape architect Charles Jencks, who now lives in Dumfries, and London designer Cecil Balmond, who was behind the spiralling sculpture built for London’s Olympic Park.

But the nine-month construction programme on the Star of Caledonia is now not likely to get underway until next year, at the earliest, with the cost to the public purse having risen substantially.

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Ahead of a crucial decision on a possible £1 million grant from Dumfries and Galloway Council, its supporters have highlight independent reseach showing there would be an initial boost of £16 million for the area from its construction, publicity and additional visitors to the area, with an annual boost of £4.6 million thereafter.

The Scottish Government has also been asked to plough £2 million into the project - which has already received a £1 million grant from the national arts agency, Creative Scotland.

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However the economic impact report, jointly commissioned by the local authority and arts consultancy Wide Open, found that it would generate an additional 70 permanent jobs every year, on top of £10 million worth of media coverage and international publicity in the first four months after it is unveiled and the £2 million benefit for the construction industry.

The report states: “The Star of Caledonia is a unique and ambitious project that is likely to result in a range of important economic and social benefits for Dumfries and Galloway, as well as for Scotland.

“It is clear - although nothing is guaranteed at this relatively early state of project delivery - that there is a strong likelihood of the returns significantly outweighing the investment.

“It will be a highly visible contemporary landmark that will help brand and raise the international profile of the area as the gateway to Scotland and a creative and vibrant place to live and wok.”

The report, by consultants BOP, said the development of the project, originally instigated to help Dumfriesshire recover from the impact of the foot and mouth outbreak, had reached a “crucial moment,” with the future of the scheme dependant on the council’s backing as it would “unlock” possible support from the government.

Project director Dr Jan Hogarth, head of the Gretna Landmark Trust, said: “We have our fingers crossed for a positive decision next week, we’ve not been given any guarantees and it is significant sum of money we’re looking for.

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“The whole project doesn’t hinge on this funding from the council, but it would make a big difference. At the moment we are hoping to start construction work early next year”

Balmond said: “James Clerk Maxwell’s realisation that light is energy was a truly great achievement, paving the way for Einstein and other great thinkers of the modern world.

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“The Star of Caledonia captures the powerful energy, scientific heritage and magnetic pull of Scotland and the design pays homage to Scottish innovation. Penicillin, television, telephone, logarithms, the steam engine, discovery of the circulation of blood in the body, the postulation of electromagnetism — our world owes much to Scottish genius.”

Dumfries and Galloway Council said it could not comment ahead of next week’s decision.