Assembly backs my motion for truly public spaces

The Assembly today voted by a majority to support my call for accountable and democratic public spaces.

The motion follows on from work I’ve been doing with a range of academics, campaigners and local groups to highlight the problem of ‘privately owne public spaces’ (or POPS) – where a new public space is not controlled by local authority by-laws as a local park would be, but by arbitrary rules set by private owners.

These spaces are growing in number across London and are often patrolled by security guards who approach anyone breaking the rules, which can include not being allowed to lie down, play an instrument, take photos or even hold a protest.

Famously, City Hall itself lies in one of these spaces – More London, which is owned by a Kuwaiti investment fund – and Assembly Members faced a battle with the owners to be allowed to film new interviews outside their workplace. There are also several of these spaces in Kings Cross Central in my own area of Camden.

We held a large protest last year in the More London space – see more about this here.

Most disturbingly, a recent Guardian investigation found that almost all owners of these spaces refused to answer questions about the rules they had set. And if we can’t see or challenge the rules we are made to live by we really do have a problem. I said to them:

Being able to know what rules you are being governed by, and how to challenge them, is a fundamental part of democracy”

The motion today asked for the Mayor to set planning rules for these spaces to ensure transparency and accountability, and to ensure these covered the life of the public spaces not just set rules in stone at the planning application stage.

I was frustrated that the Labour group on the Assembly put in an amendment at the last minute to remove a reference to ensuring local authority by-law processes should apply when changes need to be made. This is by far the most democratic way to make sure people have a right to challenge private owners, and without this call the team writing the London will need to create a whole new process.

With no time to negotiate, I shrugged my shoulders and accepted the amendment, but this meant the Conservative group – rightly concerned that local councils should have a say – would not in the end back the amended motion.

Still, I am pleased that we now have on record that a majority of AMs want change on this, and the campaign continues to get a good policy in the new London Plan.