With outdoor space more important to Londoners than ever before, new City Hall rules are set to crack down on heavy-handed management of privately-owned public areas in the capital.
The long-awaited Public London Charter, out for consultation until 15 January, fleshes out Sadiq Khan’s draft London Plan commitment that “public realm”, however it is owned, should be “open, free to use” and regulated only to ensure safe management.
Privately-owned but publicly-accessible land has been on the increase in the city, generally created as part of redevelopment or regeneration projects, with the More London land surrounding City Hall and Granary Square in King’s Cross being prominent examples.
Management of these new spaces has sometimes been controversial, with particular concern about over-restrictive rules and insensitive stewarding, according to 2019 research for City Hall by the Centre for London think tank.
Contentious rules included bans on photography, collecting signatures or conducting surveys, cycling, skateboarding, drinking alcohol, peaceful protest and begging, the research found, alongside concerns about paid-for events keeping the public out, and “patchy” management.
“One of the things we found is that the sort of visible stewardship that makes some people feel safe can feel hostile to others,” Centre for London deputy director Richard Brown told this week’s London Conference session on “public realm for everyone”.
As well as a focus on light touch management, the Charter highlights the “inequalities that exist in Londoners’ access to outside space” laid bare by Covid-19.
More than half of London homes are flats, and more than one in five Londoners have no access to a private or shared garden, with Londoners from black and minority ethnic backgrounds the least likely to have outdoor space at home, according to recent Office for National Statistics research.
Public spaces have a key role, the Charter says, “bringing people together, promoting social integration and creating a healthier, more liveable city…it is essential for the longer-term resilience of the city that public spaces can be shared and enjoyed by all Londoners.”
Town Hall planners will be expected to apply the Charter’s eight principles to new developments as part of city-wide London Plan policy, from free access to informal and proportionate management regimes “on behalf of all Londoners”, respecting privacy and consulting with users.
The draft document is a “significant step forward in guaranteeing that all new public spaces, no matter who owns and manages them, are equally welcoming to all, with needless petty restrictions on our freedoms curtailed,” said Professor Matthew Carmona, who first suggested the Charter approach in 2012 research at University College.
The challenges: “First, to ensure that the charter is routinely implemented in planning decision-making across London and, second, that a mechanism is found to encourage the owners of existing public spaces to voluntarily sign up to the principles contained in the charter as well,” added Professor Carmona.
Meanwhile Mayor Khan’s draft London Plan, issued in its final “intend to publish” form almost a year ago, is still awaiting sign off by communities secretary Robert Jenrick.
“We continue to urge the Secretary of State to approve the Plan which would help provide certainty for Londoners and help deliver the city we want to see,” a City Hall spokesperson said.
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