Will Self joins London ‘mass trespass’ over privatisation of public space

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Sun Feb 14 14:21:44 GMT 2016

Will Self joins London ‘mass trespass’ over privatisation of public space

Author warns of ‘threat to national psyche’ as 
campaigners rally outside City Hall to protest at 
corporate takeover of streets and squares
The Thames in Southwark with City Hall, where campaigners gathe

Townsend - @townsendmark

Saturday 13 February 2016 16.52 GMTLast modified 
on Sunday 14 February 201600.01 GMT

The spiritual wellbeing of our cities is being 
eroded by the creeping corporatisation and 
privatisation of its public spaces, the author 
Self has warned.

Addressing the first “public space intervention” 
to protest against the fact that sizeable chunks 
are falling into corporate hands, Self said the 
trend was having a deleterious impact on the capital’s residents.

“What people don’t understand is that it does 
affect you psychically. It constrains you in how 
you think about what you can do in a space, and 
it constrains your imagination. It’s like a 
condensing of time and money and space – it needs to be resisted.”

Self added: “The kind of ludic, playful potential 
of living in a city is being significantly impoverished by this kind of stuff.”

The author was one of the speakers at a growing 
campaign to preserve UK cities for their 
residents. Protesters on Saturday cited London’s 
Canary Wharf, Olympic Park and the Broadgate 
development in the City as public places now 
governed by the rules of the corporations that own them.

Privatised public zones are appearing throughout 
Britain and include Birmingham’s Brindleyplace, a 
significant canalside development. In Exeter, 
there is Princesshay, described as a “shopping 
destination featuring over 60 shops set in a 
series of interconnecting open streets and 
squares”. The spaces there are owned and run by 
property group Land Securities along with the 
monarch’s property portfolio, the Crown Estate. 
In addition, Land Securities owns a large 
waterside complex of shops, bars and restaurants in Portsmouth.

Writer Anna Minton said that in London the 
Garden Bridge was symbolic of the trend, pointing 
to the fact that despite using £60m of public 
money it would be plagued by corporate 
restrictions: cyclists would have to dismount to 
cross while social gatherings, playing musical 
instruments, making a speech, releasing balloons 
and many other pursuits would be banned.

Asked what he thought of the Garden Bridge, Self 
replied: “It could be great – it will be shit.”

Described as both a “public space intervention” 
and a “mass trespass”, the protest included a 
series of speakers defending the rights of urban 
residents as free-roaming citizens. Among them 
was comedian Mark Thomas, who attacked the 
coalition government’s introduction of the Public 
Space Protection Order (PSPO) which allows 
councils to make illegal activities such as 
sleeping rough in an attempt to drive homeless 
people from town or city centres.

Campaigners gathered on a patch of grass near 
City Hall on the banks of the Thames, chosen 
because it gives visitors the illusion of being a 
public space but is in fact controlled by private 
security, with its own set of regulations. 
Tourists can be admonished just for taking a 
photo, as Assembly Member Jenny Jones discovered 
while taking a picture of her place of work.

Gesturing to the surrounds, Self said: “How 
anybody can think this is one of the nicest parts 
of London. It can only be because they have been 
deprived of the capacity to make free choices of 
their own: you’re told what to do in a space like 
this, the very architecture tells us.”

Self added: “This is part of a gathering campaign 
to resist what I call ‘piss-pots’, Public Space 
Protection Orders which are a kind of extension 
of the law into the very psyche of the urban stroller. This is non-trivial.”

Other speakers at the event included comedian 
Mark Thomas and Sian Berry, Green party candidate 
for mayor of London, who pledged to introduce 
rules to ensure that new publicly accessible 
spaces in the capital were governed by the law of 
the land. Her modification of the London Plan 
would prevent controversial projects such as the 
Garden Bridge excluding the public at the request of its owners.

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