Saturday, 8 August 2009

A trip to the Tower

My friend is on a mission. At the top of the Oxo Tower on London’s South Bank is a public viewing platform overlooking the Thames. You have to go through the eighth-floor Harvey Nichols restaurant to get to it, and the restaurant has been colonising it with tables and chairs as part of its bar space in recent years. But it’s there as a condition of the original planning consent for the restaurant (which sits on top of possibly the best-positioned social housing ever built) and the public has a right of access.

When we visit, however, the restaurant has attempted to close off the area altogether for a private function. My friend isn’t having it. ‘Am I embarrassing you?’ she asks me in an aside as she harangues the bar-tender and anyone else within shouting distance about public access and threatens to bring 60 students along on a field trip as part of the planning course she teaches.

‘No,’ I lie. Actually I’d prefer a slightly quieter defence of our traditional liberties, but she happens to be in the right and I have no intention of moving from our position looking out towards St Paul’s, ‘private’ function or not. We assert our right to be there for as long as I can stand it (an hour on the plinth is more than enough public attention for one summer) and having made the point move on.

If you value public rights of access you have to use them. I recommend making use of the Oxo Tower public viewing facility next time you’re nearby. Just take the lift to the top floor: the view really is worth it.

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