Is central London’s new square a public open space or a corporate plaza with petty rules?

Property developer Exemplar boasts that its Fitzroy Place scheme has the first new public square in central London for over 100 years. But members of the public have been told they are not allowed to sit down and eat a sandwich there.

Security guard on patrol.

A security guard on patrol in Pearson Square at Fitzroy Place. Central London’s first new square in over a century has been described as a “corporate plaza” where you are not allowed to eat a sandwich.

In fact Pearson Square which has City of Westminster signs on it may be a pedestrian thoroughfare but it is being treated as a private space and patrolled 24 hours a day, seven-days-a-week by security guards working for the estate managers Jones Lang LaSalle who will monitor any infringement of its petty rules.

If you fancy a picnic on a sunny day, as many of the thousands of people who live and work in Fitzrovia do, you may not be welcome and the uniformed bouncers will politely tell you to go away.

One office worker wrote to Fitzrovia News to relate his experience on a lunchtime in

“Myself and a colleague went to the new Fitzroy Place, it was dry for an hour so we decided to sit down in the public square and have our lunch.

“We were approached by a security guard who told us we couldn’t have lunch here and we needed to move on — ‘it’s private property’ he kept repeating.

“When challenged that this was supposed to be open to the public he kept repeating ‘it’s a private square, private property’.

“We packed up our lunch and left.

“Is this the future of Fitzrovia? Corporate plazas that aren’t allowed to be used by the public?” he wrote.

It seems very different from what architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands proudly described as “an impressive new public space” which promised to open up the site to the surrounding streets and create new routes.

Street sign saying Pearson Square W1, City of Westminster.

Planning officers considered the new public open space to be “a major benefit to the community and in accordance with local planning policy that seeks to encourage new amenity space provision”.

But more importantly, planning permission for the 95,000 square metre residential and office development was granted because it met criteria set out in Westminster City Council’s policy which welcomes provision of public open space — space that is essential for a growing working and residential population.

The City Council’s planners in their assessment of the plans stated that while the public open space would have 24 hour management by security staff and CCTV, the plans as presented to the planning committee were described as having “seating for adults to relax and space for children to play”.

Planning officers considered it to be “a major benefit to the community and in accordance with local planning policy that seeks to encourage new amenity space provision”.

However at Pearson Square that provision has been curtailed by a style of management which is controlling behaviour with ridiculous rules, and would appear to be in breach of the planning permission given.

The space was partially opened as a walkway between Riding House Street and
Mortimer Street in November and the route through to Cleveland Street and the children’s play space is expected to be opened in early 2016.

Fitzrovia News tried to contact Kim Southgate of Jones Lang LaSalle who manages the Fitzroy Place estate but so far she has declined to comment.

Security guards had told us that while people are welcome to quietly walk through and sit down, there would be no skateboarding, eating, drinking or smoking allowed. Dogs can be walked but you will not be encouraged to linger, we are told, because of the risk of fouling the pathways.

However, a source in Exemplar told Fitzrovia News that the security guards were misinformed and that the restrictions on eating only applied to hot food in the evenings but the source was unable to specify at what time the culinary curfew begins.

Since Fitzrovia News started asking questions about the management of Pearson Square there appears to have been a relaxation of the rules, or perhaps selective application of them.

Our undercover reporters got away with eating lunch in the square but were told not to sit on the granite wall near the public art. Another investigator reported he was left undisturbed to eat his takeaway pizza late one evening. And our man walking a dog was able to sit in the square without being asked to leave.

Exemplar, Jones Lang LaSalle and their security guards may be watching us, but we are watching them, watching us.

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