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Protests at Evening Standard’s plan to take over Russell Square

Residents say they will be robbed of park due to ticketed arts festival

22 November, 2018 — By Richard Osley

CAMDEN Council has been warned against “privatising” its parks after the Evening Standard revealed plans to take over Russell Square for a summer festival.

Licensing chiefs are today (Thursday) due to rule on whether the newspaper can run 10 days of ticketed talks, films, plays and music events, billed as a celebration of London’s culture, in June next year.

But they are being urged to step carefully by users of Bloomsbury’s parks and people living nearby, with warnings that it will rob the community of a treasured green space and do lasting damage to the grounds. Around 70 per cent of the park would be closed off for the event.

The Evening Standard said in its application to use the park that it aims to appeal to “families in the early afternoon and Londoners and professionals in late afternoons and evenings”. The park, the application said, is “the perfect setting for the event – the variety of space within the gates and the richness of the habitat are unparalleled”.

But before making a decision on the licence, councillors will read a series of written objections. The Friends of St George’s Gardens group, from a smaller park nearby, said: “We don’t want this event to create a precedent and encourage other attempts to privatise lovely public spaces. We believe that Camden’s squares and gardens should be treasured for what they are – places for quiet enjoyment.”

The Bloomsbury Residents’ Action Group, meanwhile, said in their objection: “The grave potential for harm to plant and wildlife in the square does not appear to have been properly addressed, particularly the danger of rain and footfall turning the square into a quagmire which may take years to repair.”

One resident living nearby, whose details have been redacted, said: “It would be injurious to the local community by robbing it of precious green space. “Russell Square is a greatly used and valued public space which local people, including older people wanting a peaceful green space and families needing playspace for children, use all day long, every day of the year.”

The park was used for an impromptu World Cup screening earlier this year for England’s match against Croatia. After the semi-final fixture, which England lost, flying bottles broke the jumbotron screen. Police said they have recorded 100 crimes at the park in the past 12 months and are calling for a list of security measures including bag searches and cameras at the entrance and exits.

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