The proposals to restrict access to a section of the Thames Path after 7pm have been criticised for blocking poorer residents and creating class divides.
A property management company that wanted to reduce public access to an area next to the River Thames has been slammed by residents who claim “only a small number of wealthy people” would have exclusive access to the river in the evenings.
The Tower Bridge Wharf Management Company, which represents a group of tenants and leaseholders living in a block of flats on the River Thames in East London, wanted to change the opening hours of the gates from 8am to 11pm to 6am to 7pm (dusk) following growing concerns over anti-social behaviour.
Out of 273 consultation letters that were sent out to nearby residents in the area, there were 26 letters backing the plans and a petition of support that was signed by 31 people residing in the block of flats.
However, the consultation also received 64 letters of objection from residents living nearby and within Tower Hamlets, as well as from the Turks Head Charity, the River Thames Society, Thames National Path Trail and Reclaim Our River.
Objections mentioned in council documents ranged from the proposed closing time (7pm) being too early for people who finish work at 5pm or 6pm and want to take a walk in the area, to it being an ‘infringement’ of public rights.
One objector said: “Shutting the gates at dusk robs the local community of the opportunity to enjoy this stretch of the Thames Path and its views in the evenings.”
While another person said: “Attempting to restrict access is elitist, creates a class divide and is not promoting mixed and balanced communities.
“The proposal is not considerate to Wapping residents and poorer people in the borough who cannot afford to live by the river and often walk and exercise along the Thames Path.”
A third objector said: “Unacceptable that only a small number of wealthy people will have exclusive access to the area in the evenings rather than the whole community. An attempt to shut out the general public.”
Those in support of the application said it would help to reduce anti-social behaviour late at night and that was reasonable because “good views of the river and bridge can be sought elsewhere”.
One resident said: “The anti-social behaviour prevents other users from accessing the area.”
While another person said: “Will provide a quieter environment for residents including better quality of life.”
Speaking at a Tower Hamlets Council development committee meeting last week (Thursday, March 2), Jane Hitchcox from the Tower Bridge Wharf Management Company said some of the porters working in the block of flats had been verbally and physically attacked and that the anti-social behaviour is “severe”.
Ms Hitchcox told the committee: “Some of the porters have felt afraid. I think it’s fair to say many of them do not want to work that shift [at night] and have felt intimidated and as a result have not wanted to go out.
“[Having the gates open for longer] That allows the situation to get worse because people won’t leave.”
Cllr Peter Golds, who spoke in support of the application, said: “We have the people who live here and see something on a daily basis versus those that don’t.
“The people that live there and care for the area, want to live in the area and ultimately want their own peace. They are simply saying when it is difficult, when it is dark, and when many people want their privacy – let the gates be closed but equally open them up in the morning.”
He added: “If the gates are open at 6am, it gives two extra hours per day throughout the year and closure at dusk means it obviously closes at dusk but it will open earlier in the morning.”
Transport for London was another objector to the application, and said in council documents: “The Thames Path is part of the Strategic Walking Network and therefore should not be closed to public access longer than was originally agreed and ideally restrictions to public access should be reduced not increased.”
Rikki Weir, who is a town planner for the council, said: “One of the first things we look at is the impact of security, whether there is a proportional response where there is anti-social behaviour happening and how much proportionately do balance policies [have] with access to public open space.”
The application was recommended for refusal, as Mr Weir explained: “[The proposed timings] do not balance out with the reduction of hours in the evening such as when people finish work at 5pm or 6pm and if it closes at 7pm it’s going to be quite difficult to get there.”
After the council’s development committee heard from both sides of the application, members voted and ultimately were in support of the recommendations, which was to refuse it.
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