Green spaces in Bloomsbury
BRAG was one of the many community groups and associations that objected to the Evening Standard’s proposal to hold a Festival of Culture in Russell Square in June 2019, with the aim of attracting 50,000 attendees. It was to be a ticketed event, removing access to local residents from most of the open space for ten days. The community view was that it was far too large and long an event for the space, and would wreck the grass and landscaped Grade II listed square. Despite these objections, Camden’s Licensing Committee gave their approval.
In the end, the Evening Standard decided to cancel their application for use of space in Russell Square, citing opposition from local stakeholders, as well as the difficulty in securing full anticipated commercial sponsorship. But the licensing application was successful and there seemed to be little democratic control over commercial use of Camden’s green spaces.
Russell Square’s use is ultimately controlled by the Commissioners of Russell Square, who lease the square to Camden. They cannot object ‘unreasonably’, but a broad coalition of community groups objecting to the proposal enabled the Commissioners to object as well, along with Bedford Estates.
So the Evening Standard backed off.
Local green spaces are precious, especially in an inner city area like ours. One of the consequences of the Russell Square discussion has been more clarity about how Camden makes decisions about use of parks and gardens. It is important that the Parks and Gardens Department are involved at an early stage, to advise on potential damage and the likely repair measures needed.
Parks and gardens have always been used for events and well-managed small scale events are an asset for the community. There will be open air Shakespeare in St George’s Gardens for a week later this month – go to https://www.shakespeareswanderers.co.uk/productions for tickets. The Open Iftar event at the south end of Tavistock Square during Ramadan covered the grass only during the evening event and the grass had daytime to recover. The Bloomsbury Festival will be using green spaces in October.
What we don’t want is for Bloomsbury squares and gardens to be ‘fair game’ for anyone with a commercial aspiration, irrelevant of heritage, landscape quality or residential amenity. Here's a link to a very good Guardian article which describes the extent to which London councils are using parks for ticketed music festivals and other paid events to plug gaps in their budgets. Camden escapes a mention because the Russell Square event was dropped.
For news and information about Bloomsbury’s green spaces, follow the Association of Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens website to get their posts. https://bloomsburysquares.wordpress.com/. The site also links you to the websites of individual Friends Groups - such as Friends of Tavistock Square http://www.friendsoftavistocksquare.org.uk/ and Friends of St George's Gardens (FoSSG) http://www.friendsofstgeorgesgardens.org.uk/
There is a lot going on, even though the Open Garden Squares Weekend dropped our open squares from their June programme. Defiantly, the Friends of St George’s Gardens organised a fringe event to celebrate their trees, with Friends member, tree expert and artist Annette Freeman.