Last Tuesday, branch member Grant Smith was stopped by security guards outside City Hall while taking a photograph of a friend entering the building to deliver a report on city cycling to the Greater London Authority (GLA). Once again, out came the familiar refrain: “You need permission to take photographs. This is private property”.
The building, and the development around it, is owned by the Kuwaiti government which, in one of the largest UK property deals ever, has just paid £1.7 billion for it. But the riverside walk outside is clearly part of the capital’s public realm. Not only is it the public point of access to the Mayor and the GLA’s HQ, it is also part of the Thames Path National Trail, managed jointly by Natural England, the Environment Agency and Tourism South East. And yet none of these institutions appears able to prevent the powers that be in Kuwait City from determining what the citizens of London can or can’t do in the public areas of their own city.
Only a week before, the Southbank Centre apologised publicly after temporary security guards attempted to prevent photographer Marc Vallée from taking pictures in the open space around the undercroft skateboarding area. News clearly travels slowly down the river, but this has happened outside City Hall before, and it is high time that the GLA and Mayor Johnson took control of their own doorstep. If they can’t even manage that, what are they good for?
The London Photographers Branch demands that the Mayor and the GLA put an immediate stop to this interference with the right of both journalists and the general public to report and photograph freely in the public realm around the seat of London government.