Press Release

Privately owned public spaces: Patchy approach to management and regulation needs reform

A new report investigating the regulation of public spaces – from policing to data collection, to financing and commercialization – has set out how the Mayor and local authorities can ensure that public spaces in London are open, safe and welcoming to all.

Public London: investigating the regulation of public spaces assessed the management of spaces owned by local authorities, private developers, charities and community groups. The report, produced by Centre for London and commissioned by City Hall, as part of the Mayor’s Good Growth by Design programme, puts forward recommendations to inform the development of a new Public London Charter, which will set out principles relating to the rights and responsibilities for users and owners of public spaces.

While there are existing guidelines and tools for the design of public space, the report highlights the importance of management – rules or codes of conduct, maintenance and surveillance arrangements, curation and events – in making public spaces lively, safe and welcoming to all Londoners. In this, practice is more patchy – and dependent on landowners’ resources, ethos and attitude.

Drawing on evidence gathered from ten public spaces across the capital, both publicly and privately-owned, the report found instances of over-regulation and over-policing. It also found that while over-policing can help members of the public feel safe, others may find it intimidating. The report recommends that landowners should:

  • Use considerate and reasonable enforcement in public spaces and only have rules restricting behaviour that are essential for the safe management of the space.
  • Create opportunities for informal stewardship of public spaces to reduce the need for dedicated security personnel, for example, employing ground staff who are responsible for cleaning and gardening and who could also assume a supervisory function.

The report also explored growing concerns about the commercialisation of public spaces. It argues that while events can help to promote the use of public space, and commercial elements and sponsorship can also help meet running costs, these must not compromise the principle of accessibility and affordability.

To ensure accountability, the report recommends that local authorities, when agreeing with developers the creation of new public spaces, should pursue legal agreements that allow them greater oversight of the public space or make sure that development agreements and management plans are tightly drafted, to meet the objectives of the Public London Charter. Changes to rules and access should be agreed through consultation, to include resident, local business, user, landowner, manager and local authority interests.

Nicolas Bossetti, Research Manager, Centre for London said:

“London’s parks and piazzas are important to Londoners – providing space to meet, protest, exercise and relax. But tensions have grown over the regulation of privately owned public spaces, in terms of accountability of management and financial resourcing.

“Successive Mayors of London have sought to set out baseline principles for the public realm – covering both privately and publicly-owned spaces from streets to parklands – but these must go further.

“We welcome Sadiq Khan’s commitment to ensuring the open and accessible management of all London’s public spaces and encourage him to adopt these principles in the Charter.”

Prof. Matthew Carmona, The Bartlett School of Planning, UCL, said:

“This carefully considered report from the Centre for London confirms my own research that first identified the need for a Public London Charter. Privately owned public spaces in the city have the potential to add huge value to the lives of Londoners, but at the same time our rights as citizens need to be guaranteed. The report presents five simple means for achieving that.”

Notes to Editors:

  • Public London: investigating the regulation of public spaces is a report by Centre for London, the capital’s dedicated think tank.
  • Centre for London is a politically independent think tank and a registered charity. The Centre develops new ideas to help tackle London’s challenges.
  • This report was commissioned by City Hall, as part of the Mayor of London’s Good Growth by Design programme, in order to review relevant research on, current management arrangements for, and usage of public spaces. It focuses primarily on management issues, though design – and the brief given to designers – also plays an important role in enabling, encouraging and constraining specific uses.
  • Good Growth by Design has 6 pillars of activity supported by the Mayor’s Design Advocates:
    • Setting standards: Design inquiries to investigate key issues for architecture, urban design and place-shaping, to set clear policies and standards. Read the ‘Design for Circular Economy’.
    • Applying the standards: Ensuring effective design review across London, including a London Design Review Panel.
    • Building capacity: Enhancing the GLA Group’s and boroughs’ ability to shape new development to deliver ‘good growth’. See how we are helping London local authorities to deliver good growth.
    • Supporting diversity: Working towards a more representative sector and striving for best practice while designing for diversity. Read the Mayor’s ‘Supporting Diversity Handbook’.
    • Commissioning quality: Ensuring excellence in how the Mayor and other public sector clients appoint and manage built environment professionals.
    • Championing good growth by design: Advocating best practice to support success across the sector.

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