THE artist behind Southampton’s giant illuminated Spitfire towering 160ft into the city skyline has welcomed the public debate on the issue.

As revealed by the Daily Echo yesterday, the final design for a proposed tribute to the Spitfire has been chosen by the Spitfire Tribute Foundation. Councillor John Hannides, Foundation chairman and the city’s leisure and heritage boss, said the wire-mesh styled Spitfire would be held aloft by three enormous pylons and lit up at night.

The stainless steel monument – three times the size of the world famous Second World War fighter plane – has already provoked a mixed reaction amongst Echo readers.

Some said it was vast improvement on plans to stand a huge Spitfire on its tail, while others said it lacked imagination.

Its creator, renowned British sculptor Kenneth Potts, said: “Works of art very often raise public awareness and occasionally provoke controversy, which is probably a good thing because it gets people talking and they take an interest in the subject.

“Southampton’s skyline is crying out for a piece that is projected into the air and this would certainly do that.”

Labour MP for Southampton Itchen John Denham said: “It would make a powerful statement about the city, the Spitfire is a symbol of our history and of what type of city we want to be in the future.”

Mr Denham said the ambitious project had the support of central government, but would only come to reality with the support of Southampton’s residents.

“This is something we should do as a city because we are proud of our city and we want to do it,” he added. The proposal received backing across the political spectrum, with Labour’s leisure spokesman Councillor Derek Burke describing it as “spectacular”.

“It’s more dramatic than the last proposal because it’s flying through the sky and it’s also a big improvement on firing green lasers out of the Civic Centre clock tower.

The Foundation has worked extremely hard and I hope they can bring it to fruition.”

Solent Sky Museum curator Alan Jones – who has championed the idea of a memorial for almost three decades – said it was the most exciting Spitfire monument ever.

“The shape is what people think of when they think of the Spitfire. This is infinitely better than the previous proposal.

“I would not support something if it wasn’t true to RJ Mitchell’s original design,” he said.