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Angel of the North artist Sir Antony Gormley backs campaign to save Chatham Docks

The man behind the Angel of the North has joined the fight to save Chatham Docks and with it 800 jobs.

Sir Antony Gormley, who has various pieces in Kent, has backed the campaign to save it after using one of the businesses based for a recent sculpture.

From left, Dave Sheedy, Adam Humphries, (both ArcelorMittal Kent Wire), Sir Antony Gormley, & Phil Taylor, CEO, ArcelorMittal Kent Wire & Ian Louden, ArcelorMittal Kent Wire (submitted picture) (23455090)
From left, Dave Sheedy, Adam Humphries, (both ArcelorMittal Kent Wire), Sir Antony Gormley, & Phil Taylor, CEO, ArcelorMittal Kent Wire & Ian Louden, ArcelorMittal Kent Wire (submitted picture) (23455090)

His latest exhibition at the Royal Academy, which closed earlier this week, utilised steel sourced from ArcelorMittal Kent Wire - one of 10 firms at the port to form an association to prevent it shutting down.

He said: "Chatham Docks has been the industrial heart of a community for hundreds of years.

"The businesses there are the engineers, builders, cement importers, recyclers and logistics providers that all of us in the UK rely on.

"We should be proud to protect these specialist skills and jobs in Chatham; they may not be as profitable for the developer as residential units and retail parks but they are surely more valuable to everyone else.”

His latest work called Matrix III was made entirely from reinforced steel mesh sheets which are usually used to support and strengthen concrete floor slabs.

Sir Antony Gormley's Matrix III installation at the Royal Academy (submitted picture) (23455087)
Sir Antony Gormley's Matrix III installation at the Royal Academy (submitted picture) (23455087)

The sheets were made by ArcelorMittal engineers in Chatham, which also supplies major industry projects such as the Thames Tideway Super Sewer.

Matrix III uses 21 interconnecting cages with a central, partially hidden void.

It is supported by 10 high tensile steel wires welded into the sculpture and then form the structure of the artwork making it appear to float above the floor.

It used 350 sheets of steel equal to more than 400sqm weighing a total of nine-and-a-half tonnes.

Sir Antony, who is most famous for creating the Angel of the North, has sculptures around Kent.

Anthony Gormley statue, Harbour Arm. Picture: Gary Browne
Anthony Gormley statue, Harbour Arm. Picture: Gary Browne

He was a headline figure for the Folkestone Triennial in 2017, has created the boulders in Maidstone which were controversially moved from Ashford and another statue outside the Turner Contemporary in Margate.

The port is threatened with closure after landowners Peel L&P confirmed it is planning to revamp the site for a mixed use development of housing and leisure facilities and says the docks will close in 2025 saying the docks were not viable.

Initial plans requesting Medway Council to accept the land is suitable for development have been accepted by council planning officers.

The Association of Chatham Docks Commercial Operators initially launched over fears potential development at the nearby Chatham Waters would set a precedent for redeveloping the port.

Council documents show Peel L&P put forward the land for redevelopment when the authority issued a call for sites last year.

Transport in Canterbury Cathedral
Transport in Canterbury Cathedral

The land was earmarked as being "suitable, available and achievable" to be considered for new housing, leisure and retail under the council's Strategic Land Availability Assessment (SLAA).

Further assessment is taking place about whether to include Chatham Docks in the new Medway Local Plan - due to be published this month.

Companies based at the port are fighting against the proposals which has sparked angry reactions from Kelly Tolhurst - the area's Conservative parliamentary candidate.

Labour has also joined the fight and given their support to the businesses, who say they could quit Kent entirely if the port is closed.

ArcelorMittal Kent Wire chief executive Phil Taylor said: "We were delighted to be able to assist Sir Anthony Gormley create such an iconic work of art.

"It would be a tragedy if such exciting collaborations had to end due to Medway Council and Peel L&P shutting us and the other port operators down with the loss of 800 skilled jobs across the Docks."

Mr Taylor says the businesses contribute £150 million to the Medway economy and provide 800 skilled jobs.

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