Camden Council removal of railings at Lincoln’s Inn Fields – chronology

This new website for the Friends of Lincoln’s Inn Fields hopes to explain what is going on around the Fields and the background to major developments.  The internet allows us to share information more readily and conduct business in a more transparent way.  An immediate issues is the removal of the railings by Camden Council.  We have published a glut of posts to this site about the railings issue to bring basic information into the public domain.  This article aims to put the posts in a chronological order with links to source material.  As more documents etc come to light we shall publish them on the website here and update this particular post as a chronology.  Please inform us of any errors or issues through the comments.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields has had internal railings subdividing the Fields since the C19th according to research by the Soane Museum.  They help subdivide the large space of the Fields into zones within which many different activities take place without interference with each other.  The current railings date from the 1950s and need refurbishment.

English Heritage published proposals for a refurbishment of the Fields that proposed removing the railings.  A November 2008 ‘stakeholder engagement exercise’ on these plans involving the Friends revealed concerns about the proposed removal.

The July 2009 Masterplan by English Heritage suggested removing the railings but recognised the value of the internal subdivision of the park.  It suggested low hedges in some areas.  There was no substantive further consultation on works.

On 1 June 2011 Camden Council writes to the Secretary of the Friends to inform him that work will start on the Fields, including removing the railings to an amended version of the English Heritage plan.  The work had been split int phases.  Invitations to Tender had apparently already been issued to contractors for the work prior to writing.  There was no consultation, this was a ‘for information’ email.

On 8 June the Friends AGM discussed the issue of removal of the railings:

‘There were 12 against, 1 for and the rest were abstentions. Julian Robinson proposed that FLIF send a letter outlining our concerns and a wish to have a legitimate consultation’

The Chairman wrote to Shaun Kiddell to the Head of Parks on 9 June calling for proper consultation:

‘we fully recognise that the railings are in a poor state and something needs to be done we are strongly of the opinion that no further action on the tender process should take place until a full discussion and further consultation has taken place.’

Several Friends members and other Fields users attended a Holborn and Covent Garden Area Forum on 14 June and made representations to local Councillors Fulbrook and Vincent.  The clear  view of the meeting was to retain the railings.

Discussion ensued resulting in an email of 23 August from Fiona Dean Assistant Director to the Chair of the Friends:

‘Following the various discussions and meetings that I have had recently regarding the railings at Lincolns Inn Fields I write to advise that I have agreed to the removal of the railings as part of the upcoming path improvement works to the Fields. I have let the ward councillors know my decision and Cllr Fulbrook asked me to write to you, as he is now on holiday….’

The Chair replied that day raising a range of questions:

‘As this matter is highly controversial and there was a general view at the last local area meeting (attended by Cllr Vincent as well as Cllr Fulbrook) I do not think that you actually have the authority to make this decision. I would be grateful if you would make clear to which Cabinet member or council committee you are answerable—and let me have a copy of the report/note of decision which you have sent to him/her/it….’

Nothing substantive was forthcoming in response to the Chair’s email and he wrote again on 14th September to follow up.

There was a flurry of activity in mid September 2011.  Local people noticed on Friday 16th September that work had begun to remove the railings. The Chair wrote to Fiona Dean on 19th September.

‘Friends of Lincoln’s Inn Fields are a responsible group of local residents and others who have a great knowledge as well as love of LIF.

I invite you to suspend operations immediately.’

Cllr Sue Vincent stepped in on 19th September to pause operations until a response was received.

The Chair of the Friends receives delayed correspondence by post, in which Camden Council attempt to address the points he made.  He replies (quotes follow):

..I preface my comments by observing that, despite the areas of disagreement, Friends of Lincoln’s Inn Fields welcome much of the work which is to be done in partnership with English Heritage…

I am informed that despite assurances given this week to local councillors that you would suspend removal of the railings until FLIF had had a chance to consider this material you have continued to remove the railings….

… As a public spirited body of volunteers we remain as always happy to cooperate with you. We can readily deal with disagreement—but time is wasted and unnecessary tension is created by misleading statements and unwillingness on your part to cooperate with us (for example in formulating the methodology for the survey) and consult effectively. We have been disappointed by the way which you have handled this issue

…I would like, however, to end on a note of agreement and to place on record our pleasure at the last walkaround with Shaun Kidell that he told us that there was no intention to remove the large stands of low greenery which provide in the centre of the fields a sense of visual and functional separation. These areas of greenery are important in enabling people to have relief from the oppressive sense of built form in such a densely developed area with its shortage of open space.

The issue is covered in West End Extra the local free newspaper.  The Secretary was quoted:

Walter Hand, secretary of the Friends of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, said the council had never consulted them about the railings or provided any evidence that they were unsafe.

He said: “There’s lots of things the council have done in the park which has been fantastic. But the issue is that they aren’t listening.

“There are probably bits of railings that need some repair but to condemn all of it seems foolish.

“The council say they are looking to return the fields to how it was, but there was never a period when it ‘was’. It’s been many things. At one time there were gallows here. Should we put the gallows back?”

The newspaper also notes an apology from Fiona Dean:

Fiona Dean, Camden’s assistant director of culture, apologised for starting to remove the railings before Camden had replied to the society’s requests for evidence.

The Council resumes removal of the railings and their removal is complete on 26 September.

About William Perrin

Active in Kings Cross London and South Oxfordshire, founder of Talk About Local, helping people find a voice online and a trustee of The Indigo Trust , Good Things Foundation and ThreeSixtyGiving as well as Connect8.
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