ARTIST Damien Hirst has unveiled plans to build more than 500 landmark eco-homes in Ilfracombe, which he hopes will regenerate the town and provide a national blueprint for environmental housing.
Architects working for Hirst, said to be the richest living artist in the world, hope to submit a planning application for the development at Winsham Farm in six months.
Building work could begin next year.
The announcement was made by one of Damien Hirst's representatives, architect Mike Rundell of MRJ Rundell Associates, at a meeting to discuss Ilfracombe's southern extension last week.
The meeting followed two similar meetings in July and October last year where plans were announced for up to 1,000 new homes, a primary school, sports facilities, small business units and a medical centre on 32 hectares of land near Killacleave.
The plans involve utilising land at Winsham Farm, which has been owned by Hirst for the past ten years, as well as nearby Channel Farm and Bowden Farm.
Although plans to extend the town to the south are well documented, Hirst's involvement has never been publicly announced until now.
Councillors, officers, agency workers and other interested parties at the meeting heard of the artist's excitement and vision for the development.
Addressing the meeting, architect Mike Rundell said: "I'm a representative of Damien Hirst. He owns 40 per cent of the land we are talking about.
"As you know, he is a very successful artist and has very high ambitions for this project. He has a horror of building anonymous, lifeless buildings. He wants these houses to be the kind of homes he would want to live in."
Mr Rundell said Damien Hirst wants the development to act as a catalyst for the regeneration of Ilfracombe and create a new gateway to the town.
He said: "Damien is a local developer. He lives locally, shops locally, owns local businesses and his children go to local schools.
"He cares about Ilfracombe and wants this project to have a positive effect on the town.
"He wants these buildings to be landmarks that will stand the test of time and create a blueprint for quality, environmentally sustainable developments across the country.
"Ilfracombe will be a pioneer and Damien is incredibly excited about it."
Mr Rundell said the houses would be modern in design and could incorporate state of the art environmental features such as photovoltaic panels, concealed wind turbines in the roofs and increased insulation.
However, he also stressed the importance of complementing existing buildings in the town.
He said: "We don't want to make anything pastiche but we need to take into account the themes of existing local buildings. We hope to incorporate features such as pitched roofs, bay windows, smart gable ends, short terraces and robust materials used in a decorative manner. The development should provide a fusion between the town to the north and the countryside to the south.
"Damien also wants each house to be practical, make the most of natural light, be big enough to live in well and boast spectacular views."
Combe Martin district councillor Yvette Gubb asked if the houses would be affordable for young local people.
Mr Rundell said: "We are not expecting to make retirement homes for rich people coming down from London. We want these houses to attract young, creative families as well as people who already live here.
"It's our ambition to make them affordable but houses like these are more expensive than ordinary houses. I couldn't tell you specifically how much we are talking about."
Ilfracombe district councillor Paul Yabsley said there were a lot of community aspirations for this project such as the provision of health and education facilities as well as affordable housing.
But Mr Yabsley said: "We are never going to get all of this from one development and if we try to do so, we will compromise the entire project."
Mr Rundell said the success of the development would depend on the level of cooperation from North Devon Council in terms of a section 106 agreement.
He said: "If the council insists on a very high level of affordable housing within the development, the overall quality of the homes will drop.
"We believe that if you bring wealth, energy and business to a town like Ilfracombe, it will have far wider social benefits than simply, say, introducing a youth club.
"You have to ask yourself the question do you want cheap housing or do you want to attract business and money to allow the town to grow?"
Those who attended the meeting were given a chance to discuss elements of the development including green spaces and the gateway to the town.
Closing the meeting Mr Rundell said: "This is a very ambitious project only made possible because Damien is a local developer who truly cares and wants to create an exemplary development.
"If we are committed to doing this as Damien wants it, it will happen. Damien is a man who gets things done."