The Landscape Guide

Burgess Park

The 1984 London Landscape Guide by Simon Rendell and Tom Turner commented as follows "Land was zoned for a new park on this site in 1943 and the site is gradually being cleared of housing and industry. By 1982, 27 of the 56 hectares had been developed. The most interesting features to see are; the new entrance from the Old Kent Road and the lake which was opened in 1982. Much remains to be done if a really good modern park is to be created." The 'new entrance area' was subsequently removed but a new flower garden was made ( Chumleigh Gardens).

For many years the park was funded, and designed, by the GLC and for a time Simon Rendell was the GLC's Chief Landscape Architect. Burgess Park then passed to the London Borough of Southwark and in the 1990s it was taken over by the Groundwork Trust and several unsuccessful applications for funding were made. In 1999 the Landscape Foundation noted that "The plan for Burgess Park drawn up on behalf of Southwark Borough Council by EDAW aimed to place the development of the park in a broad contemporary context.  Burgess Park in Southwark, twice the size of St James's Park, is the result of an ambitious plan (proposed in Abercrombie and Forshaw's 1943 County of London Plan) which was never properly executed, mainly due to lack of funds. It remains an opportunity to create a great park in an area in desperate need of regeneration and improvement. To the people of Southwark, the investment involved in the original hopes for the park and in clearing the site of more than 2,000 houses could be said to be a significant part of their heritage. But discussions with the HLF have indicated little likelihood of success for any application for funding under the current Urban Parks Programme. (The plan, having failed to attract Lottery funding, is now being implemented piecemeal.)"

There was a conference on Burgess Park in 2002.

Burgess Park has been an on-going disaster. But why? Here are some possible explanations:

  • Burgess Park has never had a landscape plan which defines a clear role for the park. The original proposal, from the Abercrombie Plan, was based on the nebulous concepts of 'open space deficiency' and 'open space linkage'
  • Burgess Park has always been underfunded, partly because it is in an area with a relatively low socio-economic status
  • The range of park features and facilities provided by Burgess Park's municipal managers shows no signs of having been in tune with the tastes and preferences of the local population.
  • Park development, like other aspects of property development, rests on the three principles of location, location and location. It was probably not a good location for such a large park.
  • Filling in the Surrey Canal which ran through the Burgess Park site was a tragic blunder. Mile End Park, a sister project, gains enormously from the presence of the Grand Union Canal

So what should be done with Burgess Park? The first step should be a landscape planning strategy, which needs to have as much regard for socio-economic and ecological issues as for design. Of course it should be prepared in discussion with park users and park managers, but this should not be on the basis of 'tell us what you want': the park needs ideas and leadership. The area probably needs to have its designation as a 'park' discontinued, so that it can escape the dead hand of municipal byelaws. It should, for example, have a German-style beer garden and park barbecue area in its midst. The key issues are:

  • what will the park be used for?
  • who will control use of the park space and the park budget?

Over half a century, Southwark Borough Council has proved itself incapable of finding intelligent solutions to these problems. The standard answers are:

  • it will always be used as parks always have been used
  • the council will always control the use of the park and the park budget

Burgess Park could be-reconceived as a boundless space, like Wimbledon Common, or it could become a bounded space, like Copenhagen's Tivoli Garden (but with free access for local residents).

Access from Old Kent Road.


Goto map ref no. 27

Chumleigh Gardens, in the midst of Burgess Park, is designed, as a 'World Garden', in response to the diversity of the local community . It is also the part of the park which seems to have the most life and energy.

Much of Burgess Park is vacant green space for exercising gang mowers.

The Grand Surrey Canal was infilled, though part of it has been given a new life as the Surrey Canal Walk.