CHILDREN’S favourite The Gruffalo, a Turner Prize winning artist and the site of a 1930s hard labour camp have become the focus of a heated row in the heart of a huge forest.

The Northern Echo: Low Dalby in the 1930s

Low Dalby in the 1930s

Residents of Low Dalby in the North York Moors National Park  have voiced fury over a proposed sculpture which aims to serve as both the climax to the Imperial War Museum’s First World War centenary programme and to kick start the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Forestry Commission.

The body, which was set up following the dramatic depletion of the country’s forests during the First World War, has attracted criticism after proposing to site an 11m by 5m concrete sculpture of a Nissen hut by Rachel Whiteread in Dalby Forest.

She was the first woman to win the Turner Prize and is known for her public projects, including a concrete cast of the inside of a Victorian terraced house in London’s East End and a concrete inverted library in New York.

The commission said the domed prefab had been selected for the project as the structures housed both prisoners of war and labour camp workers who planted Dalby and other forests across the country.

The proposal, which is part of a drive by the commission to increase visitors to Dalby Forest by establishing the 8,000-acre woodland as a high quality arts venue, has generated significant excitement among the arts community.

Julian Rudd, head of economy and external partnerships at Ryedale District Council said the quality of the proposed artwork made it “of national, even international, note”.

He said the proposed site near Low Dalby, on a trail featuring Julia Donaldson characters such as The Gruffalo and The Highway Rat, had been well-chosen.

Bur residents have been nonplussed by the proposal and say it is “a bit like a bus shelter in an inner city”.

In a letter to the North York Moors National Park Authority, Low Dalby resident Nicky Wearmouth said: “I don’t think that a concrete structure which regularly plays host to dog poo-bags, picnic left-overs and graffiti with an added air of eau de urine is the best way to ‘interpret and celebrate’ Dalby’s history.”

Residents fear the sculpture by the celebrated artist will draw tourists into their village in droves, exacerbating the goldfish bowl effect they face due to the children’s characters trail, which attracted 70,000 visitors last year.

Dr John Allan said the sculpture was totally out of character with the village.

He said while the commission had recently offered to relocate the Gruffalo to divert some tourists, the main attraction of the trail was now The Highway Rat. He said the sculpture would lack context because while Nissen huts were set up elsewhere in the forest in 1919, the proposed site did not see Nissen huts until 1934. The work camp was for long-term unemployed men from Teesside, many of whom were former ironstone miners.

The park authority’s planning committee will consider the application later this week.