Just behind the Southbank centre is a large public garden in full view of the crowds, that hardly anyone knows is actually open to the public.

It’s not that the owners go to a lot of effort to make it welcoming, with no seating, lots of locked gates and warning notices that it’s private — but yes, it’s also open to the public. This is the Whitehouse Garden, and it was created as a pocket park as part of the conversion of the Downstream Building of the Shell Centre offices into residential flats.

I say it’s open to the public, I’ve never seen anyone using it, and once I became aware that it’s supposed to be open to the public, checked a few times only to see the gates locked each time. As it happens, I was passing at the weekend and thought I’d give it one last try before reporting it as a breach to the council — and lo! for the gates were unlocked.

Well, one, small, easy to miss gate was unlocked.

The main gates on the corner were added in 2004, and are supposed to be kept unlocked between dawn and dusk, but the cobwebs on the padlock suggests it’s been a long time since that was enforced. However, there’s a ramp around the side, and that’s where I found the gates had been unlocked, and was able to exercise my right to use the garden at long last.

It’s got some decent planting around the eastern side, but the main layout of the pocket park is a series of circles in the paving, including a large circular dome in the centre which should be a fountain, but looks very dry at the moment.

Over to the side is a series of ventilation shafts which you can just about see through the grills, and on my visit, were blasting out quite a bit of refreshingly cool air.

The lack of seating means it’s not much use as a park to relax in, nor to use if getting lunch from the nearby street food market unless you don’t mind sitting on the side wall next to the fencing, but it should be used if only to exercise the right to do so, especially as the owners would clearly rather you didn’t.

And there’s a curious thrill of being on the other side of that fence and people looking over and wondering just how you got there.

Now you also know – use the door on the northern corner of the gardens and if it’s unlocked, in you go.

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5 comments
  1. M says:

    Worked next to this for years and had no idea!

  2. AG says:

    I’ve been past this so many times and as you said absolutely believed it to be private and not accessible to the public given that is the impression they do everything to give. Will definitely go in next time I’m near.

  3. GK says:

    It used to be open as the sign states. I participated in some filming for a documentary there in 2008.

    By 2016 that front gate was never open anymore and I did write to the council asking about it. They sent me a five person email thread between several different departments all arguing over whose responsibility it was to deal with, and nobody seemed to know. Local government seemed exhausting and there’s plenty of other green spaces around so I gave up. Nice to know there is another way in!

  4. Chris Rogers says:

    Happy to join the chorus of those who knew about the place but not the access – interesting. S.106s are notoriously hard to enforce, albeit they are usually financial rather than this. And the entire public/private access thing is a minefield anyway. Researching the Robert Fleming building in the City from the 1980s that should have had public access through its atrium, I discovered from the records that the bank kept the atrium passages closed on the grounds of security until threatened with an injunction by the Corporation, though it was embarrassed by not having placed on record any objection to the stopping up of the original alleys on the site in the first place and failing to ensure the atrium was made a right of way (inexplicably, the public inquiry that was needed before construction omitted to impose any condition of access on the permission it granted). A year later the gates were shut again, never to reopen, the Corporation finally conceding defeat and permitting permanent closure in return for an extra shop unit in the surrounding arcade.

  5. Carol Metcalf says:

    So nice to know there is a place near me I can go and sit in the sun when the crowds closer to the river get a bit much. I will go prepared with my fold up camping chair and a book.
    Carol

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