Cheltenham Borough Council has granted a Banksy mural protected status. The mural, which depicts spies tapping into a phone booth, appeared on the side of a Grade II listed Georgian terraced house close to GCHQ headquarters in April 2014.
The work, known as Spy Booth, has been at the centre of several controversies. Not long after it first appeared, an attempt to vandalise the work failed when locals drinking in a near-by pub managed to wash it off the daubs of white paint they before dried. Then the owner of the house attempted to remove the work in order to sell it, sparking a campaign for the council to protect it.
On Thursday the council voted to grant retrospective planning permission for the mural, which was added to the Grade II listed property without listed building consent, meaning that it was not protected by the listing. Now that the mural and the satellite dish are protected, consent will be needed should any further changes to the house be made, thereby protecting the mural from unauthorised removal or alteration.
Graffiti has never been given listed protection in its own right, English Heritage have pointed out, although it can be found on buildings which have been designated for other reasons.
One borough council officer warned that this it “doesn’t mean we won’t be faced with future applications to consider other changes to it” or that “it’s going to be retained in situ.”
The council’s decision has been criticised for being ‘short-sighted’ by Robin Barton of the Bankrobber gallery. The London gallerist, who has tried to assist the owner of the house to sell the work, said that “It will very likely result in the terminal decay of the wall. There is nothing to protect the wall now. Now that it’s listed no-one can apply any protection to it. It’s it absolutely vulnerable to the elements.”
David Possee, who is the owner of the house, argued for the application to be rejected. “The Banksy was created without permission,” he told the councillors. “By law that listed building was not just unauthorised, it involved the commission of a criminal offence.
“It has caused me significant financial problems, the building is currently empty, uninhabitable and the damp proofing needs to be carried out on the flank wall.
“Until that is done it will remain as it is. The serious state of disrepair is a current danger to passing members of the public. There are only vague assurances from the applicant’s surveyor as to how things will be fixed.”
But Cheltenham businessman Hekmat Kaveh, who has led the application, emphasised how the work would only “make sense if it stays in Cheltenham.”
“I am fully prepared to fund this work and I have agreed to work with council officers to do what is necessary to ensure the long-term protection of Cheltenham’s Banksy.
“I simply ask that you place some faith in the willingness of myself, the business community and residents of Cheltenham to ensure the long-term survival of this special and very important piece of art.”