This open letter is to oppose the impending decision of Lambeth Council to change the lease for the South Bank public park which will allow mature trees to be felled and the Garden Bridge south landing building to be built over the entire green space. The South Landing building includes a large commercial unit along side service uses and a platform used for corporate entertainment and a queue system for 2,500 people.
It seeks to question this decision and raise awareness of Lambeth Council’s conflict of interests in truly assessing the worth of this public open space.
The Lambeth report outlining their reasons for the lease change can be read
We could have hoped that Lambeth had decided to debate this in an open meeting, but instead the decision will be made by a single Councillor.
The extremely short window that Lambeth gave before the announcement and decision of this lease change, as well as the very quiet manner in which they issued the notice meant that this letter had to be written in an extremely short period and consequently the list of co-signees may be added to as they are able to respond.
On Thursday 24th March you will make your decision on the changes to the lease held by the Coin Street Community Builders for the South Bank public space which would be the site of the Garden Bridge south landing building, a commercial unit, nine public toilets (for over seven million visitors) and a rooftop with built-in queue-system for 2,500 people.
We the undersigned urge you to consider the huge implications this change will have for legacy of public space in London and for the sense of citizen ownership and use of public space across the capital and to refer this matter back for consideration by a fully elected committee after all existent issues relating to planning, procurement and purpose have been dealt with.
It reads dangerously like this piece of land is of no value to anyone except when it is used to generate capital, and this is a deeply problematic – as well as extremely sad – way to consider the public realm of a city which is inhabited not by ‘consumers’ but by citizens. There is no social value ascribed to the existing asset, and the fact that an public park could be transformed into “a permanent income stream” should be of no interest to public custodians who serve to protect it as open public space as per the terms of the existing lease.
To extend this logic wider would be to open up Lambeth Council to potential other “windfalls” by building over parts of, for example, Brockwell Park or Myatts Fields. The income stream Lambeth Council could generate would be enormous, but I doubt the council would ever consider such actions. Thus, such actions should not be considered on this park, even though it doesn’t possess the grandness or romance of the Brockwell or Myatts parks.
There is overwhelming public opposition to this development, with significant questions arising as to the legitimacy of both the planning process and the procurements leading up to the current situation and its reporting; whilst the Garden Bridge Trust still have a huge shortfall in private finance with no signs of having raised much in the last 8 months. Such pre-construction developmental and legal work is being leveraged by public finances; which in the circumstances is wholly unjustifiable.
The advancement, and continuing further expenditure of public resources on this project should be deferred until such time as the requite matters have been fully, adequately and transparently explored, and that in the interests of London and the Borough such proposals for an amendment to a lease to transfer public land to private ownership be determined by a committee of elected representatives.
Will Jennings – artist & organiser of A Folly For London
Dan Anderson – director Fourth Street, a consultancy that advises public & private sector developers
Bradley Garrett – social & cultural geographer
Owen Hatherley – architectural writer and journalist
Edwin Heathcote – architecture and design critic of The Financial Times
Phil Marson – Chair of Inner London Ramblers
Jonathan Meades – writer & film maker
Walter Menteth – architect & RIBA Presidents’ Award for Research winner
Anna Minton – writer & journalistCaroline Pidgeon – Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London & London Assembly Member
David Roberts – co-director of art collective Fugitive Images and part of architecture collective Involve
Adrian Searle – arts critic for the Guardian
Jack Self – Director of the REAL foundation & curator of the 2016 British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale