Council runs out of paper to fine public urinators as parks chief hits out at ‘leisure class’

Rubbish at London Fields last weekend. Photograph: Hackney Council

Hackney Council officers doing their best to tackle public urination and littering ran out of paper with which to issue fines over the weekend, according to the Mayor of Hackney.

Just over 70 fines of £150 were handed out by Town Hall staff for urinating and littering in London Fields and its surrounding side streets at the weekend, with the council saying that it has had to clear “large volumes” of trash from other parks across the borough as lockdown eases.

Hackney parks chief Cllr Jon Burke has said that the issue has a “class dimension” and sparked debate online by blaming the problem on government for “relax[ing] lockdown while paying people to go on holiday for six months”.

London Fields park keeper Graham Hodgkins said: “I’m proud to be one of the team keeping our parks looking at their best, but we really need everyone’s help this summer to keep them looking beautiful and clean.

“Please help us out by taking litter home or throwing it in a bin.”

London Fields residents have become increasingly desperate at behaviour seen in their neighbourhood over the past few weeks, with public defecation and assaults of both residents and council staff also reported.

Cllr Burke has argued that the problems are “the result of the growing domination of London Fields in summer by a specific demographic, to the exclusion of many local residents”, and has promised to bring forward enforcement and other measures aimed at “minimising the impact of the leisure class on the rest of us”.

The theory of a leisure class was posited by American economist Thorstein Veblen in 1899, referring to an elite segment of society marked out by conspicuous wastefulness, consumption and leisure.

When questioned on social media on his characterisation of the government furlough scheme as a holiday, Burke stressed that the comment was made in the context of a discussion around antisocial behaviour in London Fields, writing: “It is [a holiday] for the leisure class bullying local residents out of London Fields so they can get blind drunk outside local residents’ front doors in full view of their children.”

The parks chief went on to criticise the furlough scheme more widely, arguing that it perpetuates income inequality while not meeting the needs of the whole labour market and places additional pressure on frontline staff, whilst predicting it could be used as an argument for ten more years of austerity measures by central government.

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said: “Furlough is a vital tool, not a holiday, but now is not the time to use our parks as a party venue.

“Big boozy sessions, followed by litter and pissing as well as assaulting residents and staff is totally unacceptable. Every week more and more resources are being deployed to deal with it.”

Rubbish collections during the summer at London Fields alone last year cost nearly £100,000, with additional bins expected to cost £80,000.

The Town Hall’s full summer waste collection routine has now been rolled out by the council a month early, with staff collecting rubbish from first thing in the morning through to the evening.

Some residents have called for extra bins and additional portable toilets to help deal with the problem, with Mayor Glanville saying in response that, having already put in place more resources, “ultimately there has to be a questioning of the behaviour itself, not how do we spend even more to regulate/enable it”.

The Town Hall is now encouraging people to take their rubbish home with them and to return home to use the toilet, having delivered 84 new commercial-capacity bins to parks across the borough, where toilets are now open from 12-9pm daily.

When visiting open spaces, the Town Hall has urged people to keep two metres apart at all times, unless they are from the same household, while avoiding gatherings of more than six.

Cllr Caroline Selman, community safety lead for the council, called the amount of litter and antisocial behaviour seen in parks in the last week “completely unacceptable”, pointing to the strain such behaviour puts on the Town Hall’s resources.

Selman said: “We’re doing all we can to keep parks open and help limit the spread of coronavirus and I’d like to thank parks staff and members of the public who have been helping to litter pick and keep green spaces tidy. However, people need to take responsibility by sticking to the Government’s guidelines on coronavirus, and treating our parks and the staff who work so hard to keep them open with respect.”

Burke added: “Our enforcement officers are working closely with our parks team and the police to keep our parks safe, clean and open.  It is completely unacceptable that some have chosen to abuse this precious resource and disrespect the members of the community that live nearby.

“This weekend, despite the opening of public toilets and installation of additional bins, it was necessary to issue over 70 fines for public urination and littering in London fields and surrounding side streets.  We are committed to continuing to work with our partners to tackle this and ensure that our community can continue to enjoy our parks and relax in their homes free from the anti-social behaviour of an inconsiderate few.”