Public - and cash - will decide
Exeter city councillors have backed plans that could result in Exeter’s General Sir Redvers Buller statue being moved from outside Exeter College on Hele Road where he has stood proudly erect since 1905. Sir Redvers and his horse is a listed building, and has been caught in controversy since the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Consent is needed from another authority to give him the push.
The city's ruling executive group of Exeter councillors this week unanimously supported plans to give him the push, although any final decision will be made by full council at a later date. They stressed that no final decision had been made. A public consultation will be held, and even then he won't be shifted unless there's the cash to do it. Only then will Sir Redvers be relocated, at a cost estimated to be at least £25,000.
Cllr Amal Ghusain, portfolio holder for communities and culture, said: "unless we can find a pot of money, it then still wouldn’t happen."
The 'scrutiny task and finish group' met four times to consider submissions from stakeholders including local historians and history groups, local black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups and a historian who has worked with Bristol City Council on its review into the statue of Edward Colston.
A report says they discussed how the current location is inappropriate because it is outside a college which includes people from diverse backgrounds, and that the statue’s future location should be in a place, and linked to an organisation, that is in a better position to provide an interpretation of the statue.
They also discussed that the British Empire was founded on the premise that other nations and peoples were inferior and some statues cause pain to people from BAME backgrounds. Consideration should also be given to whether the statement “He saved Natal” on the plinth should be removed.
Cllr Duncan Wood said: “This will trigger full public consultation and we want to hear from everyone in Exeter and that will decide what decision is made. One of the key things is that this isn’t a judgment on General Buller but the appropriateness of civic statues and monuments in the modern settings, and in certain places, it isn’t appropriate to have reminder of British Empire’s history.”
But Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, leader of the Conservative Group, questioned whether now, with everything else going on, was the right time to be considering this course of action. He said: “I am really concerned this is an extra diversion at this time. I have no problem going to the people of Exeter for discussion, but I am worried that when we have so many other priorities we are letting ourselves be diverted by this piece of work as there are other pressing issues at the moment.
“Buller was a soldier and a war hero, so feels odd we are venturing in on him this way. I wonder if it is the right thing to do at this time as he was loved by Devon and Exeter, and it seems like a waste of money to move a statue when other things that it can be spend on.”
However, leader of the council, Cllr Phil Bialyk, said that some people had jumped to the conclusion as to what may happen at the end of the consultation.He said: “We are not pulling down the statue and doing away with the statue. There is no proposal like this. The recommendations are clear. We want to seek, first of all, if it can be moved, and if it can, there will be a planning application and where there will be full public consultation, and then we will make the decision accordingly. People have jumped to the conclusion as to what will happen in the end as it is still up for discussion in that way.”
The executive unanimously agreed to the recommendations to make the application for listing building consent for the relocation of the statue to an alternative location.
The statue was paid for by money raised by the people of Devon and unveiled on ‘Buller Day’ in 1905. By this time, the General, who had been pushed out of the army following what many considered to be his botched leadership of troops in Africa, was Crediton's MP. His statue is currently situated on land owned by Devon County Council, with the monument itself maintained by the city council.