"We walked through Hyde Park looking for Speakers’ Corner, which – especially for us as East Germans – was legendary, the very symbol of free speech. I hope that is not an insult to you, the members of the British Parliament."
Speech by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel in London to both Houses of the British Parliament 27 Feb 2014
Speakers' Corner Movement
SAVE SPEAKERS' CORNER
Speakers' Corner is the most famous location for free speech in the world. It symbolises popular struggles in Britain for the right to vote, speak and assemble.
It exists since the 1872 Parks and Gardens Act.
We believe that the redesign of Speakers' Corner by the Royal Parks which they will officially launch at a press conference at Speakers' Corner at 8.30am on June 19th undermines Speakers' Corner. The Royal Parks' claim that their change to the layout enhances Speakers' Corner; in fact it appears designed to destroy it, because:
1. The area has been significantly reduced in size
2. The redesign is structured around then needs of pop concerts not public oratory
3. No consultation took place with anyone from Speakers' Corner
4. The toilet facilities in Marble Arch have been taken away and no new facilities provided
5. In this way, the overall redesign of both Marble Arch and Speakers' Corner takes no account of the needs or feelings of its users
Sadly, the planning and implementation of the redesign was imposed by the Royal Parks and it completely excluded the Speakers' Corner community from participation. The redesign fundamentally undermines the traditional Speakers' Corner as a place of free speech and significantly reduces the size of the area.
Over the last two decades the Royal Parks have, by intent or incompetence, systematically undermined Speakers' Corner.
First, they installed a merry-go-round, which resulted in a campaign of civil disobedience.
Then they increasingly used the land designated by statute, as the "Speakers' Area" for commercial events; consequently, "Speakers' Corner" is frequently drowned out by the incredible noise levels generated.
The toilets in Marble Arch were closed a couple of years ago, so the nearest public toilet is now 500 meters away. This means that the area is used a public toilet by homeless people and the smell of faeces can be overpowering.
The refreshment cafe charges extortionate prices. This excludes the less well off, many of who have been regulars at Speakers' Corner for decades, from being able to afford a tea of coffee.
Despite increasing tension and violence there are no longer any uniformed police at Speakers' Corner. Only a few years ago, the police used to reduce the incidences of violent outbreaks and encourage tolerance and both the speakers and the Speakers’ Corner community knew them. This is no longer the case.
The Speakers' Corner redesign, which is to be officially opened on Thursday 19th June 2014 at 8.30am will be opposed because: rather than protect the area from sound pollution it significantly reduces the speakers area; and is it specifically designed for vast commercial projects, like pop concerts.
This directly conflict with Speakers' Corners' statutory role and spiritual and heritage role as the world's oldest and most famous area specifically designated for free speech.
We demand that the Royal Parks
1. Not an inch from Speakers Corner! Restore the traditional Speakers' Corner area to its size in 2013!
2. We are not cattle! Remove the new gates!
3. We want tolerance! At least one uniformed police officer should be present during peak times at Speakers' Corner on Sunday afternoons
4. Reopen free public toilets within 200 meters of Speakers' Corner
Any enquiries about the campaign can be directed to Heiko Khoo the issues will be debated on a regular basis at Speakers' Corner every Sunday.
Heiko Khoo is a Speakers' Corner speaker who has spoken at Speakers' Corner since 1986. He produces the Speakers' Corner radio show for London's arts radio station Resonance 104.4 fm broadcast weekly since 2003.
The Speakers' Corner Movement was set up in 1997 to defend Speakers' Corner and to promote free speech around the world. Its original signatories included Tony Benn and Lord Soper.