The artist behind a huge Hartlepool mural says there is a big hole in his life now it has been removed from public view.
Dave Betson created the colourful Millennium Mural, which has been on display in Middleton Grange Shopping Centre for the last 15 years.
It has recently been taken down from above the former Marks & Spencer unit by shopping centre managers to allow maintenance work to be carried out.
Middleton Grange says the 70ft picture is in storage and it will continue to work with Mr Betson and other interested parties to try to find it a new home.
Mr Betson, 82, of the Fens, said: “I was there for the whole process of erecting it and was there when the mayor pulled the chord.
“Now there is a big empty space and a bit of a void in my life as well.
Now there is a big empty space and a bit of a void in my life as wellDave Betson, mural artist
“To me, it is an act of vandalism. It should never have been removed but it has been now and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Hartlepool Borough Council explored a number of possible sites but all proved impractical due to the large amount of space required.
Hartlepool Maritime Experience, Hartlepool Rail Station and the indoor market were all considered.
The Mail also launched a campaign to save the mural, which is made up of 17 inter-locking panels, and collected 500 signatures on a petition.
Mark Rycraft, Middleton Grange’s centre manager said: “Maintenance works at the centre are currently under way.
“The next phase of works has included removing the mural.
“Potential new tenants and changes to the centre mean that we cannot commit to reinstalling the mural in the same location.
“We have carefully removed the mural, which is stored safely in the centre. We have and will continue to work with Mr Betson, Hartlepool Borough Council and The Hartlepool Mail to find a suitable location in the town.”
Mr Betson came up with the winning design after British Steel, which commissioned the mural, approached Hartlepool Sixth Form College, where he was a mature art student.
A council spokesman added: “We have made extensive efforts with other parties to try to find a new location for the mural but unfortunately, to date, we have been unable to identify a suitable alternative to the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre.”