Welcome to ‘Hirst-on-Sea’: hell-raising artist Damien Hirst is laying the groundwork for a controversial new village near his picturesque Devon home

Damien Hirst is used to sparking controversy in the art world. But now he's brought the debate rather closer to home with his proposal to build a 187-acre extension to the village of Ilfracombe in Devon - just down the road from his £3.5 million farmhouse. So what do the locals think?

Damien Hirst is best known for preserving things (sheep, cows, sharks – give him a tank full of formaldehyde, and he’ll do it) rather than changing them. But that’s precisely what he plans to do to the picturesque village of Ilfracombe in Devon.

The (no longer quite so) Young British Artist has been given the green light to build a 750-home extension to the village, where he already owns a restaurant.

Dubbed ‘Hirst-on-Sea’, the development will also include a school, shops, a health centre and offices as well as sports pitches, parkland, woodland and allotments.

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Hirst, reputed to be the world’s richest artist, lives five miles down the road, in a £3.5 million farmhouse just outside the village of Combe Martin.

According to the Daily Mail, Ilfracombe Town Council says Hirst’s housing project will ‘breathe new life’ into the sleepy coastal resort, as well as creating 250 new jobs.

But what do the locals think?

While many are proud to have one of Britain’s most celebrated artists in their midst, there are others who have yet to be convinced that the 187-acre development is right for their village.

Some are worried that it will wipe out local wildlife, while others fear that local services will be swamped by the influx of new residents.

And then there are those who doubt that anyone will even want to live in the new homes: ‘We’re a seaside resort, our transport’s not wonderful and there aren’t a lot of jobs about, so who’s going to buy all these houses?’ said one local man to the BBC.

No stranger to controversy, Hirst already raised eyebrows in the village in 2012 with the erection of his 66ft bronze of a pregnant lady on the harbour front.

The sculpture, titled ‘Verity’, has been loaned to the village for 20 years and depicts a naked woman in anatomical cross-section, proudly wielding a heavily pregnant bump and a gigantic sword.

It was hoped that the artwork would boost tourism in the area, but its reception was mixed to say the least, ranging from ‘quite interesting‘ to ‘grotesque‘ and ‘a bit Hannibal Lecter‘.

The planned extension to the village covers a large chunk of Winsham Farm, which Hirst bought for £900,000 10 years ago.

It’s now up to the North Devon District Council to make the final call on whether the development will go ahead or not. But will they listen to local opinion or follow their arts?


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