Is closing Russell Square to the public in June really a good idea?

The proposed Evening Standard Festival of Culture over 10 days in June 2019 is causing a great deal of concern locally, not only in the local garden Friends groups. The organisers, currently applying for an alcohol licence,  are planning for 5,000 people at any one time mainly in the evening.  Over ten days that could amount to more than 50,000 people over the full duration.  5,000 is a large crowd and foot traffic across busy roads will increase. Vehicles providing supplies, as well as taxis and Ubers ferrying people home etc will increase local traffic.

The licence application is for 100% of the gardens, excluding the Café and the Park Maintenance Yard; approximately 80% is fenced off and will require payment for access.  The remaining 20% is designated as a queuing area.  Closing off a public space for so long in the summer months when public use is high is wrong policy. The reduction of public access to most of the square including the fountain area which is most popular with children constitutes a major public nuisance for the many users of the gardens.

A large number of people live and work around the Square and there does not appear to have been a proper noise impact assessment for the level and duration of sound from the event.  The organisers are proposing two outdoor stages, this will double the sound output, and encourage each to compete to be heard.  The Council advise that they are not able to make a specific requirement for the maximum db sound generated which will result in an uncontrolled public nuisance. In evidence to the House of Lords regarding past events in Lincoln Inns Field it was shown that, despite their best endeavours, Camden and their staff were not able to keep proper control of the noise.  This is also likely to be the case in controlling an audience of 5,000 with access to bar facilities – imagine the noise generated by drinkers standing outside a pub magnified many times.

The proposed event will cause a public nuisance to the Bloomsbury Conservation Area and as Russell Square is Grade II listed, it is protected by the London Squares Preservation Act of 1931 whose remit is to ‘protect and enhance’. There is no provision for such an event to “protect and enhance” this important landscaped historic square.  Russell Square provides an essential green oasis with trees and plants that absorb pollution and offset the negative effects of dwelling in an inner-city urban environment. The grave potential for harm to plant and wild life in the Square does not appear to have been properly addressed, particularly the danger of foot fall and perhaps summer rain storms turning the square into a quagmire which may take years to repair. Grass seed takes six weeks to two months to properly generate even when watered twice a day, and the hidden problem of soil compaction also requires separate treatment. Turf can take longer to become established. People will not be able to use the lawns during treatment.

This application does not have the approval of the Landlord or Commissioners of Russell Square who consider the proposal to be too large, too long, the wrong time of year and exposes the Gardens to damage that will render the gardens unusable for an unacceptable length of time while being repaired.

In conclusion this Licence proposal, that is put forward for not only June 2019 but all subsequent years, is very vague with no substantive description or detail and no guarantees.  It should be rejected as it will cause considerable nuisance, additional crime and disorder, risk to children and a danger to the health of local residents and office workers who currently enjoy the open space during the summer months.


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