‘No room’ for The Homeless Jesus in Westminster!
We are sorry to announce that our Appeal to place a sculpture of ‘The Homeless Jesus’ outside Methodist Central Hall Westminster (MCHW) has been declined by the Planning Inspectorate. We are very disappointed at the outcome.
The ‘Decision’ document declining the Appeal acknowledges that “the sculpture would reflect the work and mission of the Church and would demonstrate support for the homeless in the community.” Also, contrary to the bizarre suggestion of Westminster City Council that ‘The Homeless Jesus’ could be located inside the building, the document states, “due to its nature and message… the sculpture is more appropriate in an outdoor location.”
The Appeal is declined because the sculpture, by internationally renowned Timothy Schmalz, “would neither preserve nor enhance the character or appearance” of an area identified by Westminster City Council in 2008 as a ‘Monument Saturation Zone’. Though elsewhere the document notes that “In the area immediately around MCHW… there are currently few free-standing monuments”. Certainly, this was the first such application we have made in our 104 year-long history.
New applications for statues and monuments are not permitted in the Zone unless there is “exceptionally good reason” – which the document notes, “sets a very high bar”. We agree. Particularly, when there appears to exist no objective criteria of what might count as ‘exceptional’, meaning all such judgements, including this one, are considerably subjective and somewhat arbitrary.
The document also notes that as Methodist Central Hall Westminster is itself a Grade II* Listed Building, “special regard” is given to any applications pertaining to it, though is it recognised that “Given the small scale of the development and its impact on only part of the Conservation Area, the harm to the significance of the heritage assets would… be less than substantial.”
We would like to thank the hundreds of people who have supported our hope that the life-sized sculpture of a homeless ‘Jesus’ figure on a park bench should be situated outside our building in the heart of the capital. They will understand our sense of disappointment and frustration that it has been decided it cannot happen. “I acknowledge” states the writer of the Decision document, “the level of support for the proposal from members of the public from around the country… the sculpture would be thought provoking and would be relevant to the role of MCHW within the community. However, these matters do not equate to public benefits sufficient to outweigh the harm I have identified… the appeal is dismissed.”
When informed of the decline of our Appeal Tim Schmalz, creator of the sculpture, expressed deep disappointment, but noted that he would continue to seek a home for ‘The Homeless Jesus’ in London. We join him in that resolution.
‘The Homeless Jesus’ is already located in Toronto and Dublin, downtown Washington DC., Madrid, and Singapore. Over the period we have made our application and appeal, approval for a Homeless Jesus has been given for Manchester and Moscow, and the sculpture has been installed in the Vatican. But not in London. Yet.
Homelessness is a live, looming and serious issue in our capital city. Methodist Central Hall Westminster remains committed to and involved with the support and care of homeless people. Despite this disappointing outcome, we will, together with others in Westminster, continue to express and champion God’s deep concern for poor and marginalised people, which is expressed movingly in Timothy Schmalz’s ‘Homeless Jesus’.
Revd Dr. Martyn Atkins: Superintendent Minister and Team Leader, Methodist Central Hall Westminster.