No Ordinary Park has Extraordinary Rules

No Ordinary Park

Did you know that London’s newest public park is actually private property? I discovered this on a sunny late September morning when I went to photograph the art installation Newton’s Cottage, a timber frame sheered in two halves by the Carpenters Road lock in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It is one of the recent art installations that have been commissioned for the Olympic Legacy Park. I live in Hackney, so the park has become an enjoyable place to cycle, a tranquil place to walk, and a wonderful place to swim in Zaha Hadid’s fabulous Aquatic Centre. For me taking photographs in the park is part of the enjoyment I would expect to get from this 560 acre parkland, with wildflower areas, waterside paths, climbing frames, cycle paths (although flawed), and a major road that bisects the park and speeds traffic to Westfield.


Two cyclists approach on the left as I photographed Newton’s Cottage.

I set up my tripod and framed a shot of the installation about 9am. A few cyclists and a runner passed overhead on the pedestrian bridges, but there were few people around, so I enjoyed the tranquillity of the water, catching the reflections of the installation on the mirror panelled soffit of the bridge. I admired the gift that had been made available to London, and considered the future value of that legacy.
Two cyclists approached, one dressed in a hi-vi was a security guard from the park, the other a uniformed police officer. I bid them good morning. Their response was measured. I asked if I had done something wrong. I was told that this was private property and I needed a permit to take photographs with a tripod. I said that I thought the park was public property, as it is part of the Olympic legacy that London benefited from. The police officer informed me that it is owned by London Legacy Development Corporation, a private company, and one of the byelaws prohibits commercial photography. I pressed him as to who owned the company and he was uncertain, suggesting it was run privately for the Mayor of London. At which point he decided that was enough talk about the rights of public access to private spaces, and I could be removed by the park security if I continued to take photographs. The security officer said it was possible to obtain permission from LLDC via the website. He indicated that the ban on professional photography was to protect commercial interest. There was little point in extending what was an exchange based on ‘we don’t make the rules, just enforce them’. We said our goodbyes and I found a board with the byelaws printed on it, issued by London Borough of Tower Hamlets, but with no reference to photography. Dogs, fireworks and vehicular usage were addressed, but not photography. A visit to the security office, through the gate marked ‘Authorised Persons Only’. I enquired as to where the byelaws were that displayed that prohibited photography. A uniformed guard said that no notice is on display yet, and that is ‘…something we are addressing’. I asked what was the reason for prohibiting professionals from taking photographs. ‘We like to know who is taking photos in the park, as any images have to be approved by the LLDC media office. They can issue permits for photography and are very helpful. Once you have a permit, you’re able to take photographs.’ There was an indication that this was to stop hostile reconnaissance, which is absurd given that the whole site is on Google maps and it contains two architectural significant structures that draw tourists and architectural enthusiasts alike.
I can’t argue with the civil approach and manner of the security guard, nor the polite but determined way I was directed to the website, but I am infuriated that our new public park is not public, but private.
If you want to take photographs at the park, you need to give the London Legacy Development Corporation 5 days notice.

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6 Responses to “No Ordinary Park has Extraordinary Rules”

  1. The Lower Lea Valley as Fun Palace and Creative Prison (some updates) | saladofpearls Says:

    […] No Ordinary Park has Extraordinary Rules […]

  2. marshes4ever Says:

    Thanks for reporting this Grant, it’s the latest in a series of similar incidents.
    Very interesting how the culture of misinformation and exceeding of powers is continuing unabated in the over-staffed Olympic Park. The LLDC have no powers in law to prevent you taking photos for any purpose with or without a tripod. It is a public body, not a private company as you were wrongly told. The entire northern parklands is public space owned by other public bodies (LB Hackney and the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority). And ironically the location where you were taking the photo is land belonging to Canal & Rivers Trust. Make a formal complaint and ask for details of their legal justification. The LLDC cannot make or enforce any byelaws or ‘rules’ – this has to be done by the local councils or other landowners with the necessary powers in different parts of the park and as you have noticed, these don’t mention photography.

  3. grantsmith01 Says:

    I did receive a response from LLDC stating that both police officer and security guard were wrong about the park being private property. I was reminded that I did need a permit for a tripod, as they seek to support the park finically by charging for permits. I have since emailed a couple of times regarding costs of permits and whether use of a mobile phone to take photographs for commercial use would be subject to same restrictions. I wait a reply from LLDC.

  4. Richard Stevenson Says:

    It’s not a private company, it’s a Staturory Corporation, set up by an act of parliament. More specifically, it’s a Mayoral Development Corporation, a type of corporation set up by the Localism Act 2011. It’s quite similar to an Urban Development Corporation, like the London Docklands Development Corporation in that it allows government to drive through a big development without having to be party to the normal planning process. If you’re interested….

  5. Jerome Courtial Says:

    The same thing happened to me yesterday! ran into security guards who told me to pack my tripod. Although I was allowed to continue taking photographs, just not with my tripod. How stupid and infuriating.

    • grantsmith01 Says:

      Hi Jerome, There are many confusing aspects regarding photography at the park. The security guards have no idea what they are enforcing, and any claim that it is a private park is untrue. Continue to stand up for your right to take photographs in this park created for Londoners.

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