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The Mayor should deploy his planning powers to keep London’s public realm as open and accessible as possible and better manage the creeping trend towards private control of public space, a new report by the London Assembly says today (May 26th)


Public life in private hands 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.

The Committee found that many boroughs lack explicit policies for the management of public space in new developments, and that local people are often not given the chance to comment at an early stage on how public space in their area will be run.   This has led to a number of concerns about the private management of public space, including:

  • People can feel, or are, excluded from the space;
  • People feel that the rules of behaviour are weighted too heavily towards regulation and control;
  •  People experience a sense of segregation between privately managed spaces and the surrounding, publicly managed, areas.

To address these concerns, the report calls on the Mayor to develop new planning guidance and encourage boroughs to agree principles for the management of public space in new developments at an early stage, and ensure this access is permanent.

Nicky Gavron AM, Deputy Chair of the 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.”

During the review the Committee heard that budget pressures might make it more tempting for local authorities to leave the maintenance and management of public space in the hands of developers.  

At the same time, developers increasingly see the quality of public space as integral to the success and value of their sites – particularly where there is a retail element.  This can lead to them seeking control of public areas and in some cases applying restrictions on activities or closing off the space with gates. 

The Mayor himself has expressed concern about a growing trend towards the private management of publicly accessible space, especially in larger commercial developments, and has made commitments to preserving and enhancing public space in London through his Great Outdoors initiative.

The report notes a number of good practice examples in London, including Bermondsey Square and the forthcoming King’s Cross Central[5], where open access to secure, attractive public space has been preserved.  The investigation also looked at international examples in New York, Lyon and Melbourne.

The report makes recommendations in three key areas to the Mayor and boroughs:

The Mayor should consider developing Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) on the public realm once the Draft London Plan is adopted.  This should take (draft) policy 7.5 (Public Realm) as its starting point and set out what is expected from public space in principle; clear guidance on how boroughs could approach the provision and design of public realm, what desirable minimum standards are in terms of access and use, and how subsequent management responsibilities can be negotiated between boroughs and developers; model planning and legal conditions; model clauses for Section 106, CIL and similar agreements that boroughs can make use of where needed; and the benefits of boroughs entering into these negotiations at the earliest point in any development application.

The Mayor should encourage boroughs to draw up meaningful written agreements with developers that secure the highest possible level of public access to managed public spaces in new developments, whether they are in public or private ownership.  The Mayor should take the opportunity of reinforcing the importance of written agreements through his comments on strategic applications received by boroughs, or in the rare occasions when he acts as the Local Planning Authority.  The Mayor's comments on strategic planning applications should indicate where this requirement has been necessary and he should assess the impact of this recommendation at the end of the first year of the new London Plan's adoption.

Boroughs should be mindful, when preparing their LDFs, of how public space is to be managed in any significant schemes and how they will engage the community in both the design and the ongoing management process.

Source: London Assembly

Written by Matthew Abbott
Thursday, 26 May 2011 7:07

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