A FLAGSHIP art installation once hailed as key to attracting visitors to Darlington town centre has been linked to blocking a move to draw people to the area.

The Life Pulse sculpture, which was launched 11 years ago in Blackwellgate as part of an £8.5m project to pedestrianise the town centre, would pose a hazard to wheelchair users or anyone with a visual impairment if a pavement cafe was approved for the area, Darlington Borough Council’s licensing committee heard.

The artwork, designed to illuminate and create rhythms in tune with people’s heartbeat when they place their hands on the column, was described by council director John Buxton in 2007 as “an integral part of the pedestrianisation scheme”.

Veruschka and Phillip Robson, who opened nearby cafe Hatch in June, told members their plan to open a 20-cover al fresco cafe extension in the Life Pulse area beside steps had come from a suggestion by the council’s town centre manager.

She told the meeting the plan had been warmly received by her customers and other Darlington residents, who believed it would add vibrancy to the town centre as the council battles to attract more visitors to the area.

Mrs Robson said: “Our primary objective in doing this is because it would be a nice thing for the town centre. We just want to make Darlington a nice place.”

After the art installation was described as a set of “ridiculous posts” by one member and was said to have fallen into disrepair for some time, the meeting was told the lights would create an obstacle to disabled people accessing the tables and chairs. 

Gordon Pybus, of Darlington on Disability (DAD), said he was also concerned barriers surrounding the proposed cafe, which council policy stipulates is mandatory, would obstruct the tactile hazard warning at the top of the steps. 

He said by raising disability issues DAD had been portrayed by some people as “villains”, but added the council’s Highways department had raised the same safety concerns.

Mr Pybus said: “Of course we want businesses to thrive, but we want a a safe town centre which this area isn’t.”

The meeting was told the couple’s alternative scheme, to site their cafe extension beside House of Fraser, had also met with objections from DAD and Highways.

Rejecting the application, the committee’s chairman, Councillor Tom Nutt said safety had to be paramount and that he hoped an alternative site for the cafe extension could be found.

After the meeting, Mrs Robson said she was disappointed by the decision, and hoped the council would offer help to find an acceptable solution.

What do you think of the decision to block plans for a pavement cafe in Darlington?

What do you think of the decision to block plans for a pavement cafe in Darlington?

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