The Public debate

 The Public arts centre in West Bromwich, the building we chose as a backdrop to the West Midlands TaxPayers’ Alliance launch, continues to inspire debate this week with a feature in today’s Express & Star. Two local figures, Cllr Bill Archer and local artist Fred Barnfield, are called upon to offer the pros and cons of the project. Needless to say, the plus points are scraped from the bottom of a rather empty barrel.


At various times the building’s champion compares The Public to the Wembley Stadium, the Sacre Coeur, the Sydney Opera house, the Eiffel Tower and even the Taj Mahal. As utterly bonkers as this might seem, apparently The Public warrants a spot amongst these iconic cultural buildings due to the controversy it has caused. According to Mr. Barnfield, all the truly great buildings in the world have caused controversy, and in stating so he flips this equation on its head and actually declares that: “All controversial buildings are great”. Strange then that he hasn’t included the ‘great’ Millennium Dome in his impressive list, by his own standards this was surely one of the ‘greatest’ of them all?


Mr. Barnfield’s defence of the building even audaciously concedes that it is of no definable use to anyone, asking: “And what about the Taj Mahal? The Eiffel Tower, again has no practical purpose, yet The Public will offer a real experience that people can enjoy”. 


Terms like “real experience” have often been clumsily employed by those dedicated to pushing this project through to the bitter end in an attempt to mask the truth of the matter, i.e. that no-one seems to have a clue exactly what this “experience” will involve. Currently the only thing they seem to be able to assure us of is that it will be “real”, presumably as opposed to some intangible dream…or nightmare.      

What is more, Mr. Barnfield is clearly confused, actually implying that useless and iconic are synonymous. 


Taj_mahalThe Eiffel Tower was not only a feat of 19th century structural engineering, but also an original urban icon put in place to celebrate the centenary of the French Revolution and reinforce Paris’s cultural identity in the context of world history, alongside being an omnipresent and globally accessible symbol of France. Similarly the Taj Mahal combines it’s eastern styles to stand for India as a nation, as well as physically representing an array of rich cultural and religious ideals. Additionally, it has practical use and always did have, as a temple and mausoleum.   


To suggest that The Public, a large empty grotesquery without a car park in the centre of West Bromwich, is destined to join the ranks of internationally significant architecture, purely based on the fact that it is controversial and useless is absurd, and tantamount to comparing Westminster Abbey to a static caravan using whatever tenuous simlarities there are.


In one respect Mr.Barnfield’s determination to define The Public as an icon is completely correct. The building is an icon.  An icon of waste, poor judgement and bad planning, as well as a blatant disregard for the taxpayer on the part of local government and regional quangos. At an extimated cost of £70million, this building would have to suceed beyond all expectation in order to avoid being ranked on any list other than one of expensive publicly funded white elephants.


Sign our online petition to stop anymore money being spent on The Public by clicking here.


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