Controversy continues over Clapham Common domes


This summer, vast white domes loomed large on Clapham Common and an area of parkland was cordoned off, all to facilitate talent show ‘Got to Dance’.


By Amy Hopkins

For four weeks this summer vast white domes loomed large on Clapham Common and a substantial area of parkland was cordoned off with a 2.4m solid barrier, all to facilitate the filming of Sky One’s talent show ‘Got to Dance’.

It is three weeks since cranes dismantled the structures, but the grassy area they once occupied remains an unusable marshland.

“I would have expected a superb team of Sky cleanup people to set about bringing the quagmire they’ve left back to normality,” bemoans 53-year old-musician David Whitlam, who lives five minutes from the common.

David’s disappointment resonates in disgruntled tweets directed at Lambeth Council.

“Sky has removed their domes from Clapham Common, left a great muddy mess behind, what are you going to do to make it good?” one resident asks, in a message left unanswered.

The vinyl domes (the largest of which had a 600-person capacity) have been the subject of controversy ever since Princess Productions (on behalf of Sky) submitted their planning proposal.

At the planning meeting on 27 July, community groups Friends of Clapham Common (FCC) and the Clapham Society opposed them on the grounds of their size and appearance, as well as loss of public amenity, damage to the common, and noise and disturbance.

Nevertheless, the domes were approved, subject to a number of conditions, the first of which was that, once permission expired: “the site shall be returned to its original state.”

At a planning meeting on 11 September the council rejected Sky’s application to extend their 28-day stay to 36 days, on the grounds that the structures prevented other uses accessing the land.

The FCC welcomed this decision but FCC Chair Melanie Oxley added: “We would ask that Lambeth pays more attention to the law as it applies to common land, before outline permissions are handed out. 

“Commercial filming, advertising and industrial buildings are not permitted on Clapham Common, under Acts of Parliament relating to common land”.

FCC accuse the Council of being in breach of Greater London Parks and Open Spaces Act 1967, which protects London commons from encroachment and applies to temporary structures.

Lib Dem Cllr Jeremy Clyne likewise criticized the council for ‘taking it on itself to approve the Sky domes without planning permission’.

He also questioned why ‘Nike’s so-called “Fuel Station” was allowed on the common, when it amounted to little more than a glorified sports shoe shop’.

Domegate comes hot on the heels of the contentious, pop-up Nike installation that sat from 30 July to 1 October on the common’s South Field, which falls under Wandsworth Council’s planning jurisdiction. Like Sky, Nike left the residents something to remember them by, churning-up the grass when they left.

Lambeth Council reportedly received £136,100 for the Nike installation and £62,000 for the dance contest development – both sums including deposits to repair damage and money to reinvest into the common.

Reviewing the aftermath of the domes, Conservative Cllr Shirley Cosgrave said: “It is evident that the ground has been seriously damaged and will take months to repair. It remains to be seen whether the deposit paid by the organisers is sufficient to cover the full cost of restoration.” 

Lambeth Council are yet to confirm whether Nike or Sky’s deposits have been repaid.

The outpouring of frustration about the legality of the domes and the mess left by Nike and Sky reignites a wider debate about the proper use of Clapham Common.

David says that, although his house luckily isn’t one of whose view is ‘trammeled by the events on the common’, his daily run is often hampered by event fencing.

2010 saw 200 people camping for three nights on the common for Camp Royale, which was followed the next summer by chef Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival, as well as the SW4 Festival and the 50,000-person Paralympics Festival.

The council claim that commercial activity on the common boosts business in the area and generates much-needed revenue.  

A report detailing the income generated from parks due to be reviewed by the Environment Scrutiny Committee next week shows the council failing to meet its huge income target of £1.3m.

David says: “I believe Lambeth had ‘lost’ two events this year, including ‘gay pride’ so they were desperate.”

But profiteering from the parkland comes at a cost.

Cllr Clyne explains: “The council’s drive to extract as much income as possible from Clapham Common is very worrying.  It is clearly putting at risk an open space which the council has a duty to protect.”

Cllr Cosgrave agreed and warned that, by continuing to host such large-scale events on the common, the council are ‘in danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg’.

For now, Lambeth Council remain tight-lipped about the issue and decline to comment on plans to repair the common. But as the weeks pass, pressure mounts for them to respond to questions posed by residents like David: “What are you going to do to make it good?”

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