The Pool of London Partnership
About the Pool of London Partnership
Tower Environs Scheme
Today – Promoting the arts
Today – Community
About the Pool of London Partnership
In 1996 the Pool of London Partnership (PLP) was established as the regeneration agency for the area from London Bridge to just past Tower Bridge, encompassing both sides of the River Thames. Local landowners had become increasingly concerned with the poor state of the environment and sought to engage the support of other stakeholders and the three local authorities with responsibilities in the area to do something about it. The partnership recognised the area’s enormous potential and were keen to have the necessary infrastructure, plans and investment in place to capitalise on the earlier decision taken to extend the Jubilee Line through Southwark in time for the new millennium. This was highlighted by Samantha Hardingham in her 1999 publication London – A guide to recent architecture, she wrote, “The imminent opening of the Jubilee Line Extension will unquestionably have the most significant impact on the way London grows and changes demographically, economically, socially and architecturally as we embrace a new millennium. There is also potential in the Government’s proposals to institute an elected mayor for London. Watch this space…”
Hardingham couldn’t have been more right. These two significant developments - City Hall, the new landmark building for the capital and home to London’s new government, and the new transport links - brought a new spotlight on the Pool of London and provided the necessary catalyst for change.
The funding secured by the PLP through the Government’s Single Regeneration Budget was to see a new vision for the Pool of London realised - a vision to create to a new quarter of the capital which would:
The PLP successfully secured £31 million of government funding to invest in the Pool of London over 10 years (1996 - 2007). This money, plus an extra £120 - 150 million from new organisations the PLP's programme helped to attract to the area, was used in delivering their vision for the Pool of London.
Tower Environs Scheme
In the beginning the PLP’s work focussed on their first flagship programme, the Tower Environs Scheme (TES). Through a series of phased improvements TES tackled issues of access, appearance and safety around the Tower of London which, when the PLP began, was one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in London - though the setting for the palace was far from befitting to this status.
Between 1996 and 2004 the five major projects collectively known as TES were successfully completed. The individual projects were:
The Western Approaches - this element of the scheme encompassed a complete transformation of the area to the west of the Tower. It provided a new pedestrianised open space almost as large as Trafalgar Square with seating and a natural route towards the river, new ticketing facilities, a two-storey shop, a new Welcome Centre providing information on the Tower and the area, and improved access from Tower Hill station. A new educational suite for the local community was the final phase of TES and was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II in July 2004.
Tower Wharf and Tower Pier – founded on the PLP’s objective that the river should be a public space that everyone can enjoy, this element of the scheme saw the restoration of Tower Wharf with the removal of the obsolete flood defence wall and a car park. Today, it is a large riverside open space in which to enjoy the iconic views of the Pool of London. The old pier underwent significant investment to provide a higher quality facility which would attract larger modern boats and offer a greater capacity.
Tower Hill Underpass and Links to St Katharine Docks – both these projects aimed to help link the Tower to its surrounding area. The Tower Hill underpass was transformed from a dark and grimy subway into a clean walkway decorated with bright and colourful artwork by Stephen Whatley. At the same time, new safer pedestrian routes to the nearby St Katharine Docks and Royal Mint were established to encourage visitors, residents, and workers to explore more of the area on foot.
Tower of London Education Centre – this purpose-built facility was designed to provide a high quality learning environment for the many thousands of children and students of all ages who both already have and will benefit in the future from Historic Royal Palaces’ award-winning educational services.
In comparison with other parts of central London such as Soho, Bloomsbury or the City, the Pool of London offers an overwhelming perception of having more open space; much of this is by virtue of it encompassing both banks of the River Thames. However, the Pool of London is an historic area and thereby suffers many of the same problems as other parts of London caused by a traditional narrow street pattern. To ‘open out’ the area and give visitors, workers and residents more room to go about their business the PLP devised a Public Realm Strategy.
The public realm can be defined as being private or public land that is available for everyone to use. Within the PLP area 65% could be classified as public realm including the river, riverside, roads, pavements, subways, parks, stations and other public buildings.
The PLP’s Public Realm Strategy provided the context for improving the open spaces, the links between open spaces and residential, business and leisure districts, and importantly, realising the potential of redundant spaces that were left around old developments. Although the strategy was new and ambitious, the concepts it was based on were well established. In 1921 The London Society speculated on a London of the Future* and in a section on ‘Smaller Open Spaces’ they wrote,
“London, as the Mother City of millions owes to itself the provision and maintenance in the most useful form of as much open space as possible…In certain semi-suburban districts where there are neglected corner sites and odd pieces of land…these, with ingenuity, could very well be planted and prepared as playing grounds for little children and resting places for their elders.”
With the said ingenuity, the PLP’s Public Realm Strategy has led to the delivery of many specific new and renovated open spaces and walking routes that are referred to later, but its overall achievement has been to provide a framework for delivering a high quality public realm that is smart, safe and sustainable. This has been achieved by funding projects to beautify the environment, utilise disused or underused spaces, install more efficient and aesthetic lighting, and provide clearer signage to encourage walking, while working in partnership with landowners and local agencies responsible for maintaining the environment to ensure the benefits can be sustained in the long-term.
* Webb, Sir Aston (Ed.), London of the Future by The London Society, 1921
With its aging infrastructure and transport issues, moving around the capital has long been a cause of consternation, making navigating the Pool of London’s blossoming business, leisure and residential district on foot a particularly attractive aspect of being based in this compact neighbourhood. For this reason, the PLP’s Public Realm Strategy focused heavily on improving walking routes around the area.
The river path:
Waterside pathways have been deemed desirable as far back as the seventeenth century. “One of the great themes of… town planning was the idea of re-orientating cities so that visitors, instead of turning their back on the port, could promenade on open quaysides [lined] with public buildings.”* Unfortunately it took a lot longer for these designs to come to fruition in London.
Fortunately today the capital has the Thames Path which attempts to provide a continuous route alongside the city’s great river, although due to land ownership issues and development the path sometimes meanders away from the water’s edge
The 1990’s saw the PLP work hard to negotiate with landowners and invest in the creation of a circular riverside path around the Pool of London. Ensuring safe public access to the river, its piers and the iconic views afforded on both banks, the river path has become a well-used resource for workers, residents and visitors alike, while ten annual charity runs and bikes rides have incorporated it into their route.
* Michael Hebbert London (1998)
Running parallel to the river path on the south side of the Pool of London, the busy highway of Tooley Street dates back to the seventeenth century when it was an important east-west route across London. As with many thoroughfares, the car became king and the needs of pedestrians were overlooked. In setting up the Tooley Street Enhancement project, the PLP successfully addressed this problem with initiates including widening and upgrading pavements, helping to improve access to local businesses such as the new Unicorn Theatre, specialised pedestrian- and vehicle-focused lighting, and welcome features such as new litter bins, cycle racks and pedestrian crossings. As a result, the street is now a pleasure to explore on foot and home to many thriving businesses.
Built in 1836 and encompassing seven road tunnels and archways in the PLP area alone, the London Bridge viaduct provides the greatest barrier to pedestrians wanting to move between the north and south of the district. Changing these uninviting, unsafe spaces beneath the busy railway line into clean, safe and well-used walkways was quite a challenge, but the PLP’s Tunnels and Arches Improvement Strategy did just that. A total of eight projects have overseen the restoration of original brick and metalwork, the resurfacing of roads and footpaths, and the introduction of pioneering lighting solutions to reduce the fear of crime. In addition, an underused tunnel at Whites Grounds was transformed into an innovative leisure area and skate park for young people.
In another move to prioritise pedestrian’s needs over traffic and reduce the potential for crime, the PLP’s Guy’s Approaches Masterplan delivered improvements to the area occupied by King’s College London and Guy’s Hospital - a site visited by 15,000 people every day with an additional 3,500 traversing it on their daily journey to and from the station.
In a state of decline, this harsh urban environment was made safe and attractive for all its users through a program of pavement widening, road resurfacing, improved lighting, and new signage and artwork.
From sweeping urban parklands to historic garden squares, London’s open spaces make the capital one of the world’s greenest cities. Mirroring these qualities, the Pool of London area boasts twenty-eight open public spaces within its 2sq km (1.25sq miles) boundary.
One of the most prized of these spaces is Potters Fields Park. Established in the 1970s, it is one of central London’s few remaining Thames-side green spaces. In its enviable location adjacent to two of the most famous structures in the world – Tower Bridge and the Tower of London – the park has unsurprisingly featured in many photographs, paintings and feature films.
Currently over one million people use the park each year, while increasing visitor numbers and an influx of businesses to the Pool of London area mean this figure will continue to rise. For this reason the PLP, working with More London and Southwark Council, renovated the entire park to achieve a standard of excellence befitting this unique location while addressing the challenge of catering for the park’s variety of users through state-of-the-art design. A new café, a tranquil seasonal garden, unimpeded river views and extensive, hard-wearing lawns capable of hosting events now benefit both local residents and visitors alike, while an iron gateway at the Tooley Street entrance and a new twenty metre stone bench display Delftware patterns as a link to the park’s history.
The Pool of London also has a wealth of smaller parks that remain vitally important to local residents, many of whom do not have private gardens. The PLP has put considerable investment into improving the quality of these public areas to provide local people with green spaces in which to relax and socialise.
Previously run down, unsafe and therefore underused, Guy Street Park is but one example of how the PLP has pumped life into community parks. To increase use of the park and provide a ‘green link’ pedestrian route to the hospital and station, the project undertook the renovation of the entire space, including a new playground and footpaths, a picnic area, community garden and extra lighting, incorporating five lightboxes for displaying community artwork.
Over the river at the Royal Mint Estate the PLP transformed another rundown local park and its surrounds, unlocking a much-needed community open space in an area of high density housing and offices while providing safer pedestrian walking routes. A major component of the PLP’s long-term Public Realm Masterplan, the Royal Mint project is a testimonial to how creative use of limited open spaces in mixed-use areas can help break down physical barriers between residents and the business community.
Additional quality open spaces have been provided along the riverside and at Tower Hill as part of the triple-award-winning Tower Environs Scheme.
Further westwards, the historic 202ft stone Monument commissioned by Charles II was originally located in a courtyard designed by Sir Christopher Wren, but over the years this public space was eroded to make way for roads. Working with the City of London, the PLP’s Monument project has restored the area to provide a safer and more welcoming pedestrianised piazza.
Along with other famous structures such as HMS Belfast, All Hallows Church, Southwark Cathedral and London Bridge, the Monument also benefited from the PLP’s award-winning Lighting Strategy with a new illuminations installed to accentuate its dramatic appearance. Using practical, innovative and aesthetic lighting has been crucial to the success of the PLP’s improvements to open spaces and walking routes.
Today – Promoting the arts
Recognising the valuable role that arts-related projects have to play in regenerating areas, the PLP undertook a diverse body of work including both public art installations and the creation of performing arts throughout its ten years.
The four principal benefits public art can provide are:
- a means of beautifying and adding interest to the environment
providing historical interpretation for the area
a vehicle for social inclusion to build confidence and self-esteem regardless of age or ability
a way of actively engaging the community while instilling local pride and ownership in a wider environmental project