May The 4th Be With You!
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Calling all Star Wars fans; a ‘May the 4th’ festival could be held in Ashburton, Devon in honour of the model of the Imperial scout walker that was erected on the side of the A38.
The model of the AT-ST, featured in the iconic Return of the Jedi, was erected by Paul Parker on a patch of land next to the A38, one mile outside Ashburton.
After Teignbridge District Council told Mr Parker that he had twenty-one days to tear down the £12,000 model as he did not have planning permission, a Rebel Alliance formed.
With the assistance of this alliance, The Force has been with Mr Parker as the scheme has received backing from several councillors, Highways England and a number of residents after Mr Parker submitted retrospective planning permission.
Mr Parker, who runs a storage business and is a member of Ashburton Chamber of Trade, explained:
“About 99 per cent of the comments I’ve had have been positive.
“It’s a bit of fun. I wanted to do something that would create interest in Ashburton and maybe help get people to visit. It’s been a talking point since it has been up.” (Radio Exe)
So positive, it seems, that an annual festival could be held in its honour. Ashburton Town Council spokesperson revealed:
“I have viewed the structure many times on journeys on A38 and have personally found it interesting and amusing. Ashburton Chamber of Trade said that its appearance has heralded renewed optimism in the town and sparked some interesting conversations, and a May the 4th Festival has been proposed and is being considered.
“There is long standing tradition of conversation pieces alongside major roads, for example an orange elephant at the Splatford split on A38, the striding willow man near Bridgewater on M5 and the camels, Humphrey and Boo, near Glastonbury, and I propose that Ashburton town council support the application.”
Ward councillors Charlie Dennis and John Nutley both have backed the plans. Their support is such that they have told officers that if they recommend refusal, then any final decision must go through the planning committee. Cllr Nutley explained:
“This structure will have no adverse effect on the surrounding area. It will attract more visitors to Ashburton and will help boost the economy of the town. This is no different from the Orange Elephant at the bottom of Haldon Hill or the Willow Man off the M5.”
Cllr Dennis added:
“I wish to support this application as I do not consider it is a visual distraction to road users and it does not have a detrimental impact on the landscape.”
Devon County Council’s Highways Department have made clear that they have no objection to the proposal. Highways England have studied traffic data and, at present, offer no objection explaining:
“There have been a number of advertising hoardings placed in the vicinity of the structure over a number of years which can also be considered to constitute a driver distraction. We have therefore reviewed the collision data for a section of the A38 extending 250m either side of the site which provides no evidence of a collision pattern relating to driver distraction.
“This would therefore suggest that the potential driver distraction from this additional feature is unlikely to lead to an unacceptable safety issue in this case. Highways England offers no objection to the proposal.”
Landscape officer for the council, Paul Bryan, has mixed feelings on the structure. He feels that as a publicity stunt, it is successful, but as a permanent structure, it has an adverse effect on the landscape and the rural beauty of Devon’s countryside. He added:
“The proposed development would contravene Local Plan policies that aim to achieve good design and conservation and enhancing of the natural environment and so there is a landscape objection.
“The proposal brings questionable benefits. As an element to benefit the further promotion of Ashburton, should this be considered necessary, alternative approaches could be found that would be less harmful to the countryside.
“If the planning officer is minded to approve the application, I would suggest that this is time limited.”
At present, no decision has been reached by Teignbridge District Council. If they wish to approve the application, it is likely to be done under delegated powers.
The model is made of steel and took welder-fabricator Dean Harvey 400 hours to create for his daughters four years ago. He made it as a den and slide for his daughters and put it in his garden, but as they have grown out of it, he loaned it to Paul.
Teignbridge District Council hope to reach their decision by the end of January.
Grow Talk would love to hear your thoughts on the future of the AT-ST, as well as the possibility of a Star Wars-themed festival in Devon. Have your say by commenting on this post on social media or by tagging in @growexeter to your conversations.
May the force be with you all.