Rebecca Atkinson

View from the top

Rebecca Atkinson, 15.01.2013
Should schoolchildren receive free entry to the Shard's viewing platform?
One of the things I love most about London is its evolving skyline – whether you’re scanning the horizon from one of the many bridges crossing the Thames, the peaks of Hampstead Heath or even your sitting room window (if you’re like me and live in a tall building on a hill), dinosaur-like cranes and emerging new architecture are testament to a city that never stands still.

Of all the new buildings erected in recent years, the Shard has got to be the one that has had the biggest influence on London’s skyline. With 87 levels and at 1,016ft tall, it is the second tallest building in Europe and towers above everything else in sight.

I love the fact that you can be walking along the street in so many different parts of the capital and still catch a glimpse of it somewhere in the distance. Likewise, its viewing platform has been billed as the only place in London where you can see the whole of London at once (on clear days at least).

While I'm a fan, the Shard has attracted its fair share of controversy. English Heritage has expressed concern about its detrimental impact on protected views of St Paul's Cathedral from Parliament Hill in north London. And commentators such as the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones described it as an “assault on London”.

The most recent criticism has related to the cost of the viewing platforms on floors 68, 69 and 72, which open to the public on 1 February. The cheapest tickets will cost £24.95 for adults and £19 for children (when bought online 24 hours in advance). If you turn up on the day, immediate entry will set you back £100.

Considering its location in Southwark, one of the poorest boroughs in London, this price is problematic to say the least.

Former mayor Ken Livingstone has already called for his successor, Boris Johnson, to provide subsidised free entry to the Shard to London’s schoolchildren. In an interview with the Observer newspaper, Livingstone said that the mayor had a responsibility to alleviate the effects of high prices on the majority of Londoners – he even used the example of free entry to museums to illustrate the benefits.

While I share his view on the prohibitive price, surely there are better uses for public money? Yes, 360-degree views of the capital are a big draw and interactive telescopes offer an educational benefit (they use augmented reality to pick out certain sites and provide historical information).

But ultimately, isn’t the Shard experience just a magnificent view? I can’t help thinking of all the other wonderful things to do in London that cost money – what about subsidised entry to historical sites such as the Tower of London?

View from the Shard, the private company that operates the viewing platform, has defended its pricing as being in-line with other tourist attractions. It also claims that public access will instil a sense of pride in Londoners – to be fair, the Shard is one of the few private buildings in London that does offer public access, even if it comes at a cost.

But I’m not sure it’s worth it. When I visited last week, the rain and fog meant the view was limited. Even if it had been a clear day, what did I learn? Not much, to be honest, other than London has a stunning skyline – which I already knew. 

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Official photograph from View from the Shard. Credit: Julian Shoquette


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The View from the Shard during my visit last week. Taken on an iPhone 4.

Comments

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Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
Access
16.01.2013, 22:43
It might actually be cheaper to get an EasyJet flight heading in the right direction and get an ever better view of London.Just seems odd that a left-wing politician would ask the London taxpayer to subsidise visits by one group of people, while the owners, a private company can continue to make a profit from everyone else who visits!!What might make more sense are subsidized visits (e.g. subsidized buses and hostel accomodation) for school children outside London to visit our capital city so they can see their own heritage. Every school child should get to see our big national museums and galleries, not just those in the south-east.
15.01.2013, 14:01
Without having visited the Shard, I would still tend to agree that it seems like a good view and not much more. Why subsidize that for school children?
Jack Kirby
MA Member
Head of Collections, MOSI
15.01.2013, 12:26
I went up One Canada Square (the central tower at Canary Wharf) a couple of times when it was open and the view was well worth it, but the price was nowhere near as steep. London blogger Diamond Geezer reckons that the Shard will be the most expensive walk-up attraction in London (http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/thats-steep.html). The politicians may make political capital out of the price, but ultimately it is about what the market will bear - the London Eye is cheaper on the day and offers a flexible ticket for the same price as an unflexible ticket for the Shard. Either the Shard operators are aiming for a more exclusive experience, or they will end up reducing prices. Meanwhile, across the river, the Monument, operated by the Corporation of London, offers good views AND heritage for a bargain £3.00.