Appeasing The Developers’: Even Labour Controlled Cities Keep Extent Of Privatised ‘Public’ Space Secret

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Jan 11 09:43:15 GMT 2018

Appeasing The Developers’: Even Labour Controlled 
Cities Keep Extent Of Privatised ‘Public’ Space Secret


City administrations in Manchester, Liverpool, 
Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Glasgow and six 
others won’t detail spread of privately owned 
public areas, or their secret prohibitions – 
which may include protesting or taking photos

the insidious creep of pseudo-public space in London
Manchesters Spinningfields business quarter, where the p

Manchester’s Spinningfields business quarter, 
where the parkland is privately owned. Photograph: Christopher Thomond

Shenker –  Tue 26 Sep 2017

Many of Britain’s largest cities are refusing to 
reveal information regarding the private 
ownership of seemingly public spaces, the 
Guardian has discovered, fuelling concerns about 
a growing democratic deficit within local city government.

Cities investigation earlier this summer revealed 
for the first time the spread of pseudo-public 
space in London – large squares, parks and 
thoroughfares that appear to be public but are 
actually owned and controlled by developers and 
their private backers – and an almost complete 
lack of transparency over secret restrictions 
imposed by corporations that limit the rights of 
citizens passing through their sites.

The Guardian has since requested data on 
pseudo-public spaces, which are sometimes known 
as privately owned public spaces (Pops), from the 
country’s biggest urban centres beyond the capital.

These squares are our squares: be angry about the 
privatisation of public space Bradley L Garrett

Councils were asked about the extent of existing 
pseudo-public spaces in their area and details of 
any upcoming development plans that will include 
such spaces in the future. They were also 
questioned on how local citizens could access 
information about pseudo-public spaces, and about 
the nature of any private restrictions imposed by 
corporate landowners which may prevent members of 
the public from holding protests, taking photos, 
or exercising many of the other rights they are 
entitled to on genuinely public land.

Out of 14 local authorities contacted, only two – 
Cardiff and Cambridge – provided some details of 
pseudo-public sites under their jurisdiction. 
Belfast and Edinburgh councils said they were 
unable to share that information. Other city 
administrations, including 
Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, 
Nottingham, Leicester, Bristol, Sheffield and Newcastle, declined to comment.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said all of the

‘[Open spaces] should be subject to the same laws 
and rules as everywhere else in our country and 
not indistinct restrictions’ 
 Andy Burnham, 
mayor of Greater Manchester. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe

“It’s really shocking,” said 
Richard Sennett, a prominent sociologist at the 
London School of Economics whose work explores 
the politics of urban development. “What are 
local councils so afraid of? Conditions could be 
placed on new developments that force the 
creation of real public space and full 
transparency about land ownership and public rights.

“But in Britain we’ve long had this attitude of 
appeasement towards developers. If planning 
authorities were strong, rather than constantly 
bending over backwards to show how 
development-friendly they are, they would find 
that the companies fall into line.”

In Britain we’ve long had this attitude of 
appeasement towards developers Prof Richard Sennet, LSE

The revelation comes as pressure mounts on the 
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to use his 
Plan – which provides an overarching development 
strategy for the city – to push back against the 
creeping privatisation of public space.

Following the Guardian’s initial investigation, 
national political leaders including Labour’s 
Jeremy Corbyn, the Liberal Democrats’ Vince Cable 
and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party 
spoke out on the subject.

Shortly thereafter, a 
was passed in the London Assembly urging Khan to 
take a firm stance on the issue.

“Being able to know what rules you are being 
governed by, and how to challenge them, is a 
fundamental part of democracy,” said Sian Berry, 
a London Assembly member for the Green Party who proposed the motion.
The Liverpool One shopping development, which involved the corp

The Liverpool One shopping development, which 
involved the corporate enclosure of several previously public streets.

“Increasingly, London’s public space is in 
private hands and there is very little 
transparency around which individuals and groups 
can have access,” added Labour’s Nicky Gavron. 
“These are Londoners’ outdoor living rooms and it 
is appalling that access can be restricted.”

Several assembly members pointed out that City 
Hall itself is located on open but private land 
controlled by the sovereign wealth fund of 
Kuwait, which refuses to allow journalists to 
operate in the area without corporate permission.

The Mayor of London has vowed to establish new 
guidelines covering privately-owned “public” 
sites, designed to “maximise access and minimise 
restrictions, as well as enabling planners to 
establish potential restrictions at the 
application stage for new developments.”

But Gavron insisted that this was not enough. 
“The next London Plan should go further and 
establish real public transparency and 
accountability for setting rules to govern these 
spaces through the lifetime of developments, not 
just at the application stage,” she argued.

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

Although London is 
the centre of Britain’s trend towards the 
creation of pseudo-public spaces, budgetary 
pressures on local authorities and growing 
partnerships with the private sector have 
resulted in a number of similar developments 
emerging in other cities, including 
One – a huge retail and leisure complex on the 
city’s waterfront which involved the corporate 
enclosure of several previously public streets – 
and the 
Street districts of Manchester.

Manchester’s under-construction 
neighbourhood, which is currently the largest 
development project in the north-west of England, 
is set to include two pseudo-public spaces; when 
asked about what agreements Manchester’s planning 
authorities had reached with the landowner 
regarding protecting public rights on these 
sites, the city council refused to comment.

Directly elected mayors responsible for some of 
Britain’s biggest urban regions told the Guardian 
that transparency and accountability in the 
governance of supposedly public spaces was vital.

“I’m deeply committed to creating a civic realm 
that is open, accessible and democratic,” said 
Steve Rotheram, mayor of the 
City Region. “This is an integral part of 
civilised urban life and any erosion of public 
space or the privatisation of the civic realm is 
something that I would seek to oppose in terms of 
my powers and influence as Metro Mayor.”

A spokesperson for Andy Burnham, mayor of 
Manchester, told the Guardian that all of the 
city’s open and public spaces “should be subject 
to the same laws and rules as everywhere else in 
our country and not indistinct restrictions. 
While landowners have rights over their property, 
the Mayor believes it is crucial all of our 
public spaces are welcoming and genuinely open.”

Huw Thomas, the Labour leader of Cardiff city 
council, echoed those sentiments. “With council 
budgets being slashed we have had to find new 
ways of delivering for Cardiff and its 
residents,” he said. “We believe in positive 
partnerships with the private sector, but this 
doesn’t have to mean citizens lose their rights.”

James Palmer – mayor of Cambridgeshire and 
Peterborough, and the only Conservative local 
leader to respond to the Guardian’s enquiries – 
said that it was “only fair that individual 
owners decide how to manage their property when 
it is privately owned,” but added that “it is 
vital that those areas which are enjoyed by the 
public, and appear to be within the public realm, 
are not policed in an inappropriate, or aggressive, fashion.”

Pseudo-public space: explore the map – and tell us what we’re missing

Read more

All the leaders quoted claimed that pseudo-public 
space, and associated issues regarding public 
rights and democratic accountability, were not as 
pervasive in their areas compared to London. The 
directly elected mayors of Bristol, the West of 
England and the West Midlands declined to comment.

Ultimately, some experts conclude, any widespread 
challenge to the spread of pseudo-public spaces 
may come from citizens themselves rather than top-down institutional leaders.

“The planning process is supposed to be 
Fineberg, an expert adviser on public services, 
observed. “The people responsible for drawing up 
planning policies and sitting on planning 
committees are elected representatives. So if 
citizens are concerned about this issue in their 
local areas, they can campaign and put pressure 
on representatives through the ballot box and try 
to ensure that future planning applications by 
developers are required to meet clear and strong 
conditions regarding public access and open 
governance. There’s nothing stopping planning 
authorities making approval dependent on those 
conditions being met. It’s a question of local democracy.”

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 From South America, where payment must be made 
with subtlety, the Bormann organization has made 
a substantial contribution. It has drawn many of 
the brightest Jewish businessmen into a 
participatory role in the development of many of 
its corporations, and many of these Jews share 
their prosperity most generously with Israel. If 
their proposals are sound, they are even provided 
with a specially dispensed venture capital fund. 
I spoke with one Jewish businessmen in Hartford, 
Connecticut. He had arrived there quite unknown 
several years before our conversation, but with 
Bormann money as his leverage. Today he is more 
than a millionaire, a quiet leader in the 
community with a certain share of his profits 
earmarked as always for his venture capital 
benefactors. This has taken place in many other 
instances across America and demonstrates how 
Bormann’s people operate in the contemporary 
commercial world, in contrast to the fanciful 
nonsense with which Nazis are described in so much “literature.”

So much emphasis is placed on select Jewish 
participation in Bormann companies that when 
Adolf Eichmann was seized and taken to Tel Aviv 
to stand trial, it produced a shock wave in the 
Jewish and German communities of Buenos Aires. 
Jewish leaders informed the Israeli authorities 
in no uncertain terms that this must never happen 
again because a repetition would permanently 
rupture relations with the Germans of Latin 
America, as well as with the Bormann 
organization, and cut off the flow of Jewish 
money to Israel. It never happened again, and the 
pursuit of Bormann quieted down at the request of 
these Jewish leaders. He is residing in an 
Argentinian safe haven, protected by the most 
efficient German infrastructure in history as 
well as by all those whose prosperity depends on his well-being.
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