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War of words

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9 Jan 2008

The latest round of the Carbuncle Awards got the press hot under the collar, with an impressive breadth of coverage in local and national press, online and on television, as Prospect and ArchitectureScotland.co.uk became the target of local press and councillors’ ire following Coatbridge’s victory as Plook on the Plinth.

North Lanarkshire Council and local newspaper the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser declined to accept the award, as Cumbernauld and Airdrie had in previous years, so this year, local woman Jeanette Hart was gifted the plinth by Prospect editor Penny Lewis. When told the ‘dismal’ title of the award Mrs Hart remarked: “Aye, that it is,” but maintained the town still had its charms.

This mixed reaction certainly sums up a lot of the public’s views of the award, however, much of the press coverage generated this year was peppered with far from favourable comments from North Lanarkshire Council and local politicians.

MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston, Elaine Smith, was quoted in The Times, Daily Record, Evening Times, BBC news, The Metro, The Advertiser and The Herald calling for the awards to be scrapped, and accusing Prospect and architecturescotland.co.uk of “snobbery.”

“In any case, the Prospect people should get out of their ivory tower, have a look at the real Coatbridge and stop insulting us by their patronising publicity stunt,” said Smith. “This award, aside from being an insulting cheap shot, is really becoming quite tiresome and I think it’s time it was binned.”

Tom Maginnis, convenor of North Lanarkshire Council’s regeneration committee, wrote a letter to The Herald “in defence of a carbuncle-free Coatbridge”, pointing out the sums of money currently being poured into the town and blasting the awards for not offering anything “constructive”. He was again quoted in the Advertiser saying that whoever nominated the town “must not have taken their medication that day”.

Prospect Editor Penny Lewis was quoted in the Advertiser, Sunday Herald, Evening Times and The Herald staunchly defending the awards as a means to trigger debate.

“The Carbuncle Awards are not an insult to local people,” explained Lewis. “In fact most of the nominations come from locals. We are not having a laugh at the expense of frustrated residents, but trying to provoke a debate about how we move forward. Some local authorities are very complacent.”

TV reports on STV and BBC offered the same mixed bag of reactions from the local community. The video of a BBC report by arts correspondent Pauline McLean has even racked up its fair share of hits on youtube as her live report in the centre of Coatbridge was interrupted and cut short by two young boys shouting “Bucky boys” in the background.

The online debate has offered less of a knee-jerk reaction with discussion groups and forum posters on news websites arguing for and against the result – precisely the type of debate the awards were started for. Whether or not the local politicians or press choose to learn from the criticism, expressed by the public and through a public vote, remains to be seen.

Maginnis later said: “The people from Prospect will probably be sitting in the wine bars of Glasgow tonight drinking gin and tonics and feeling rather pleased with themselves.” Funnily enough I, for one, had an early night and went home. To Coatbridge.

Back to January 2008

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