UK cities refuse to reveal extent of pseudo-public space

The Guardian has discovered Many of Britain’s largest cities are refusing to reveal information regarding the private ownership of seemingly public spaces.

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. Out of 14 local authorities contacted, only two – Cardiff and Cambridge – provided some details of pseudo-public sites under their jurisdiction

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

Although London is at 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 Liverpool One, which involved the corporate enclosure of several previously public streets and Spinningfields and First Street in Manchester.

A spokesperson for Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater 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.”

So the debate will continue should these spaces be publicly owned and potentially under perform or should they be privately owned and potentially offer a better amenity for communities but with private sector governance?