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April 18 2012

Aircraft safety fears over Olympic column of mist

Delays have beset the £500,000 project that would see a tall column of mist projected above the River Mersey

Fears that a three-mile high £500,000 column of mist due to light up the skies above the Mersey as part of the Olympic celebrations could be scaled down have emerged this week.

Artist Anthony McCall's installation at a disused docks in Birkenhead may be abandoned completely if it is deemed to be a dangerous distraction for aircraft landing at the nearby Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Taller than Blackpool Tower and with a 20 metre diameter, the mesmerising work which would be housed at Wirral Waters is intended to be a "slender, sinuous spinning column of cloud" visible on the horizon up to 60 miles away.

The coherent connection of cloud and mist would be created via a rotating water surface above the River Mersey with heat added to create the ever-changing vapour.

During clear days when the sky is blue, it would appear to be a column of white, yet when it is overcast it should manifest itself as a dark line.

But difficulties have blighted the project since the planning application process began last October. Crucial tests will take place in the next fortnight to assess how feasible the project is and to ensure that its not distracting to nearby aircraft.

When the Cultural Olympiad approved the £500,000 funding for the project, supported by Arts Council England, they described it as "a landmark project" that will "act as a symbol of the Cultural Olympiad and will be a beacon for the north west."

The Civil Aviation Authority says it wants to test that this project can be delivered safely and are in talks with the developer. It is possible, the CAA says, that the light could affect aircraft on descent, either as a distraction or through poor visibility. But hopefully a solution will be found so that it can go ahead.

It had been intended that the beacon would be in place in the New Year, but more than four months on, there's no sign of it. Even if the tests in the next fortnight are a success, it is unlikely to be in-situ by June when the Olympic torch arrives in Merseyside.

The local authority, Wirral Council, is waiting on information from the CAA that everything is fine and safe before it can consider planning approval.

The organisers, Projected Columns, point out that the London 2012 Festival in honour of the Olympics is running from 21 June until 9 September and that the column forms part of that. They don't have a launch date for Column, but add that they hope to soon.

Artist Anthony McCall was born in Britain and studied graphic design at Ravensbourne College of Art and Design in Kent in the 1960s, before moving to America. He began experimenting with light and cinema techniques, but stopped creating art for 20 years, until he restarted his solid light series, using digital projectors. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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