A group of determined residents have launched a 24-hour vigil – to stop a new Banksy being removed and sold.
The piece – named ‘Spybooth’ – features three 1950s-style spies eavesdropping on a phonebox on the side of a £300,000 end-of-terrace property.
It appeared in April but was only confirmed by Banksy himself in recent weeks – making it potentially worth up to £1million.
But residents in Cheltenham, Glos., want the piece to stay and leapt into action when a scaffolding firm which has previously removed Banksy artworks for sale turned up.
Workman erected a scaffolding rig around the work and have now boxed off the mural to block it from public view.
A determined band of locals have now vowed to maintain a round-the-clock vigil to protect the artwork.
However, as the property is privately owned there is nothing to stop the landlord – who rents out the house – from legally removing and selling it.
Michael Tonge, 52, kept a watch from 7.30pm on Wednesday evening until the morning, when others took over yesterday.
The broadcast engineer, who lives two streets away from the mural, said: “Q Scaffolding are saying they won’t remove it, but they have been the poacher so many times in the past that we don’t believe them.
“I think this piece of art work belongs to us. This is a smallish town and it belongs to everyone here.
“Since Banksy announced it was his, people have been coming from all over the world to have a look. The local shops are doing so much better because of it.
“I did expect it would go eventually, but not this soon.”
The specialist firm Q Scaffolding arrived on Wednesday and began boarding up the end wall of the three-bedroomed house, which is in Hewlett Street.
It immediately raised suspicions as the company was responsible for removing Banksy’s ‘Slave Labour’ from a wall in London in February last year.
The slab of masonry was eventually sold for more than £750,000 by Sincura Group in June last year.
Yesterday a spokeswoman for Q Scaffolding said they would not be taking the artwork and that they were there to “render the wall”.
A builder working on the project, who asked not to be named, said: “People don’t need to worry. I can understand the interest because people don’t want to see the Banksy go.
“But I can assure them, we are just fixing the rendering to make it safer and the art will be preserved.”
However, Michael explained how the scaffolding only goes up around 10ft, barely clearing the piece of art and only raising suspicion.
The house which has the artwork on the site is currently empty.
The confusion deepened after builders claimed it had been sold – while the owner insisted it was going nowhere.
John Joyce from Q Scaffolding was reported as saying the piece is being removed and will go on display in a London art gallery on July 4.
He said: “We have bought the piece from the owners and it will go on public exhibition on July 4.
“We should be able to remove all of it by Tuesday although the first part will go by Monday.
“We are not doing anything illegal. We are preserving Banksy’s legacy.”
He added that by removing the artwork it would protect it and “stop it being vandalised”.
However, shortly afterwards the owner of the property, David Possee, denied it had been sold and said the current work is to protect the piece.
A spokesperson for the homeowner told the Gloucestershire Echo: “It’s hard to say how we are going to do it, but the artwork is covered at the moment because we don’t want to damage it.
“We will have to do our best but it is very much our intention to leave it there and make sure it is safe during the rendering process.
“Most of the work is covered at the moment because we want to protect it, not take it away.”
The property was due to undergo renovation work before the artwork appeared, it emerged yesterday (Thurs).
Cheltenham Borough Council served a ‘hazard awareness notice’ on the property in early February and work was due to start in March.
The notice required the owner to deal with the structural stability of the wall and remove loose, cracked, unkeyed, or perished render to the front gable and parapet walls.
However, when the Banksy appeared the work was delayed and council officials believe the recent arrival of builders may signal the work is about to begin.
Mike Redman, director of environmental and regulatory services at Cheltenham Borough Council, said: “The council is supportive of the public’s desire to keep this unique artwork on Fairview Road, but we must remember it is on a privately owned property.
“Apart from working with us to get listed building or building control approvals where applicable, the property owner is legally entitled to make decisions about the artwork without informing the council.
“We have given advice to the owner and would support him in any attempts to protect the mural, whilst not undermining any work needed to repair the render on this Grade II listed building.
“In the meantime, it is important to keep the area safe and we believe this is what has been arranged with the recent involvement of a scaffolding firm. However, at this stage we do not know the exact detail of what work is planned.”
Cheltenham police have been made aware of the work and attended the scene early yesterday after reports were made by residents concerning an obstruction.
A spokesperson said: “Officers have attended the site of the artwork on the end terraced house in Fairview where there have been reports of a van causing an obstruction.
“The van is not obstructing vehicle or pedestrian traffic, including pushchairs and wheelchair users on the footpath.
“As such the only involvement police have in this matter is that of monitoring and management of any community tensions.”