Park Closures: Necessary step to save lives or draconian move that will cause more damage?

Katherine Johnston (05 April, 2020)

As Lambeth Council shuts Brockwell Park due to 3k visitors in one day, we ask if shutting the gates is the right step

35948View of Brockwell Park

Lambeth Council’s decision to shut Brockwell Park’s gates has ignited a national debate. Is the move necessary in light of the actions of a selfish minority flouting the rules, or is it an over-the-top response that will do more damage than good?

The move was announced on Saturday evening, when the local authority which manages the park bordering Herne Hill, Brixton and Tulse Hill said more than 3,000 people had visited to enjoy the warm weather throughout the day.

At Friday’s press briefing, held at Downing Street, chief nursing officer Ruth May pleaded with the public to think of the two NHS nurses who died from Coronavirus in the last week – both mothers in their 30s – and stay at home.

It was a message reiterated on Saturday but one that is also being continually ignored by a minority.

Although people are allowed to go out for an “essential” shopping, travel, or work, and daily exercise outside, these directives are being misinterpreted – deliberately or otherwise.

Many have criticised the government’s communication strategy, saying there is a lack of clarity about what counts as ‘essential’.

This morning, health secretary Matt Hancock warned all outdoor exercise could be banned. He said images of people sunbathing outside yesterday were ‘unbelievable’.

 

The police are already patrolling public spaces and dispersing groups, with officers out today (Sunday) – reminding that picnics are not allowed. Thirty officers are on patrol throughout Southwark alone tasked with enforcing the lockdown.

There certainly have been examples poor behaviour. But, as many have pointed out, 3,000 is not a large number compared with the overall population living in the park’s catchment area.

Over 71,000 people live within Helen Hayes’ Dulwich and West Norwood constituency covers large parts of Brixton and Herne Hill.  Brockwell Park is the largest, nearest park to many of those residents.

There are now fears it could be the start of more stringent measures – with other parks following suit.  Southwark’s local politicians have already highlighted their frustrations with those behaving like they’re enjoying a bank holiday.

Although Southwark Council-run parks remain open, this could be overruled if the government decided to move ahead with a further crackdown.

Others believe a culture of blaming is targeting the wrong people, with many urging Southwark Council to avoid taking similar measures due to the high number of families living in over-crowded housing in the borough – and difficulty walking two metres apart in often narrow pavements.

An alternative suggestion has come from Harriet Harman, who called for Southwark Council to find a way to stagger park entry and exercise times by street to reduce the number of joggers, walkers and visitors during peak times.

This could also help ensure people using wheelchairs and walking aids, and those pushing buggies, can make use of tarmac paths still being dominated by joggers.

So far this morning, the majority of people are still doing the right thing. Let’s hope it stays that way.

 

Share your views – email editor@southwarknews.co.uk 

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