Speakers' Corner Bulletin 07 - 26th July 2014

Friends, my meeting with Dennis Clarke - Head of Park Services - was disappointing, but not a complete waste of time.

On the most urgent of objectives - accessible toilets, he could only shrug his shoulders and offer vague commiserations. He said that it was Westminster Council that were responsible for the closing of the toilets on the traffic island and the limited and intermittent usage of the toilets in the underground car park were also in Westminster’s gift, and that we should approach them.

Meanwhile, I told him that he could hardly expect us to re-occupy the original ‘newly renovated’ site when the reason for our gradual exodus twenty years ago was the increasing traffic noise, Since then the removal of a row of perimeter trees (apparently Hornbeams) and later the building of an extensive new entrance on the corner, had further reduced any sound-proofing.

When I coupled this with the problem of the increasing use of the bicycle track in our current speaking area, He said that cyclists were aware that they had to give way to pedestrians. I told him that this week a combination of Ishmahil’s meeting on one side and the Crusades on the other, had again blocked the thoroughfare and there were various exchanges at different times between cyclists and people listening to the meetings. A problem that had been noted five years earlier in the Royal Park’s own survey of 2010. He asked why we didn’t speak on the grass. I suggested it might have something to do with the fence the Park’s authority erected. He thought about this; and actually so did I. Moving onto the grass has the makings of a fall-back solution if we fail to get the place re-organised to our satisfaction.

As for connected problems like arbitrary sports events and pop concerts I told him it was hypocritical to continue celebrating Speakers’ Corner as a bastion of Free speech — a place where Orwell and Marx had spoken. George Orwell wouldn’t have lasted five minutes with Bon Jovi bashing out Great Balls Fire through a modern sounds system in the adjacent field while a section of his audience argued with irate cyclists. Mr Clarke offered more sympathy and then said that the number concerts had been reduced to just two events this year. Which was both inaccurate and failed to answer my point. Conversely, he then proudly announced that there was an open air prom concert coming up soon.

At one point, I led him down the perimeter horse-riding track and explained about the Duke of Wellington’s mounting block, and how, up until recently, it was still used by contemporary horse riders. Then I showed it to him, located on the other side of his newly erected fence. He immediately made a note of it.

Dennis Clarke promises a considered emailed reply to my questions when he returns from his holidays. I received the following ‘holding’ email from him at 5pm Friday 25th July.

Dear Tony,

Thank you for meeting on Tuesday. I will be able to send you a first reply next week, as discussed.

The contact at Westminster City Council is Mark Banks. Mark’s email is mbanks@westminster.gov.uk



Dennis Clarke | Head of Park Services | 0300 061 2096

Steering Group ?

In the mean time I suggest we meet and consider what to do about the current state of affairs at Speakers’ Corner.

I’ll be there, mid-afternoon, this coming Sunday.



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