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Assembly calls on Mayor to clarify blurred line between public and private spaces

London SE1 website team

Bermondsey Square and Mint Street Park have won praise from the London Assembly's planning and housing committee as part of their report on the management of public space in the capital.

Last November we reported one of the committee's evidence-taking sessions in which the More London Estate was harshly criticised by expert witnesses and assembly members alike.

Now the committee has published its final report – Public life in private hands – which looks at the different ways the public realm – including squares, parks and thoroughfares – is managed, and identifies a number of consequences relating to the shift in the ownership and management of public spaces from local authorities to developers.

"We have found that there are some examples of good privately managed public spaces: safe, popular and vibrant areas where previously people would not have thought of going," says the report.

"An example is Bermondsey Square ... which recently won an award as 'best new public space'."

Mint Street Park, which is cared for by a steering group convened by the Bankside Open Spaces Trust, is also singled out as an example of good practice.

The report says that BOST "enables local groups and residents to develop a sense of ownership and authorship over the space".

It adds: "The park that had a reputation for crime and anti-social behaviour has since been transformed to meet the needs of key user groups who were heavily involved in the planning and implementation of the works."

Looking at privately owned estates like More London, the committee notes that such developments "often benefit from a greater level of resources and the ability to react quickly to changing demands" and can also afford to spend more money on higher quality materials.

But the report warns that "there is a greater risk of exclusion of groups when there is a conflict with commercial interests".

The committee adds that "the space can be dominated by corporate tenants rather then the local community where it is located".

"For example, photography or filming is frequently not permitted."

Potters Fields Park – which is publicly owned but held on a long lease by a management trust – is also cited as an example of one approach to maintaining open space in the capital.

Drawing explicitly on previous discussions on the SE1 forum, the report notes that "income can be generated through events but paid events can prevent low income groups from using the spaces".

Launching the report, Nicky Gavron AM, deputy chair of the London Assembly planning and housing committee, said: "The line between public and private places has become blurred as what should be in effect public space is increasingly subject to private management. We need the Mayor to redefine the line through the planning system.

"High quality, safe and well-maintained public spaces play a major part in the capital's economy, environment and quality of life for both Londoners and visitors. They are areas where people should feel welcome to meet, sit, eat their lunch or simply wander through.

"All public spaces require some form of oversight but there is a fine line between successfully managing a space and controlling it too rigorously in a way that can make people feel excluded.

"For London to become a sustainable city we must expect higher densities of development, which means more people sharing our spaces, but we must not compromise the democratic principle of open and equitable access to the public realm."

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