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Bermondsey beach: locals fear repeat of Blaine fiasco

Last summer David Blaine's endurance stunt turned Potters Fields Park into a dusty wasteland, but this year it could become an inner-city beach if mobile phone company O2 gets its way.

David Blaine
Crowds in Potters Fields during David Blaine's stunt, September 2003


O2 wants to cover Potters Fields Park with more than 500 cubic metres of golf bunker sand, complete with a beach bar and beach volleyball court. The beach would be in place for five weeks from 24 July.

Bob Geldof's Ten Alps Events company, responsible for London's millennium celebrations and the abortive plans for New Year fireworks on the Thames in 2001, has been commissioned by the mobile phone company to plan and deliver the event.

More recently Ten Alps also worked with O2's rival Orange on the Brightening Up London event last December which projected images onto public buildings in London including the National Theatre and the Imperial War Museum.

Southwark Council will decide whether to approve the plans after a consultation period ends next week, though circulation of information on the plans was described by Alan Chapman from the Tower Bridge and Tooley Street Community Association as "virtually non-existent".

Local residents fear a repeat of the havoc wreaked last year by David Blaine's stay in Potters Fields, when commuters fought their way through clouds of dust on the riverside and those living nearby were disturbed by rowdy behaviour in the early hours of the morning.

Former vice-chair of the Tooley Street Tenants and Residents Association Andrew Ecclestone wrote on the London SE1 Forum: "After last summer's Blaine farrago I can't understand why the parks people are even entertaining the idea of such a big event ... for even a nanosecond."

"Potters Fields is a park which we fought very hard to get as a local community and absolutely won't want taken away", local MP Simon Hughes told The Guardian. "The beach idea is great. It works in Paris very well. But there are plenty of other sites that would work better – by Blackfriars Bridge, for example, or by Gabriel's Wharf."

Echoing commitments given last year by Sky and Channel 4, an O2 spokesman said: "We are committed to minimising any noise and disruption to residents and the environmental impact it may bring by returning the land and grass to its original state afterwards."

Last October Riverside ward councillor and leader of Southwark Council Nick Stanton was forced to apologise to residents at a meeting of Bermondsey Community Council for underestimating the disruption that the Blaine stunt caused: "I hold my hands up and apologise. If we'd known then what we know now, we would have taken a very different view of this event. We under-estimated the numbers expected to visit the site."

Earlier this year plans to re-landscape the park were announced and a consultation launched.

In another scheme, American Express is planning to install screens in the park to relay tennis from Wimbledon later this month. Bermondsey Community Council is due to hear more about these plans on Wednesday 16 June.

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