A temporary ban on drinking in London Fields is being sought through a court injunction by Hackney Council, after locals faced an onslaught of litter, public urination and defecation and parks officers under unprecedented pressure to clear up the mess.
If granted, the injunction will be in force temporarily, during which time the Town Hall says it will be talking to locals and businesses to explore longer-term options to keep the park safe and useable for all.
Council officers reportedly ran out of paper to issue fines in its parks as lockdown measures began to ease, as London Fields became a destination for thousands, with DJs setting up sound systems.
Park users have reportedly been seen urinating against trees, in people’s gardens and outside front doors and defecating in woodlands and play areas, with loud music and noise continuing late into the night.
Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville said: “London Fields is not a festival site – it’s a vital green space for everyone. We’ve heard so many stories from local people – many with no outside space of their own – who feel excluded from the park and whose lives are being made a misery because of littering, urinating, defecating and drunken behaviour.
“It’s incredibly frustrating that this is costing the council so much to manage when this money could be better spent on our other parks or vital support for local residents, like food distribution to vulnerable people or services for young people.
“We have already put extensive measures in place to try to tackle the issues but we are being left with no option but to apply for this temporary alcohol ban while we consider how to manage the situation in London Fields in the long-term.
“We appreciate that this will also impact people who have been respecting the park and its neighbours but we must ensure that everyone – young and old – can use it together.”
If granted by the court, the injunction will prohibit London Fields users from:
- consuming alcohol
- damaging wildlife
- possessing, consuming or selling nitrous oxide, laughing gas or CO2
- playing loud amplified music
- lighting fires or barbecues
- driving vehicles or using generators in the park
- leaving litter
Police would be able to arrest anyone breaching the injunction’s conditions.
Parks chief Cllr Jon Burke has spoken out in opposition to some calling for portable toilets and extra bins beyond what the council have already put in place in the park, pointing out that more resources sent to the area could exacerbate the problem and create a “demand pull” effect by making the area more attractive, while diverting funds from other green spaces.
Burke said: “During the pandemic, our parks have been more important than ever, and our staff are working incredibly hard to keep them clean and maintained.
“Despite calls from some to close our parks during this time, we were adamant that they remained open for exercise and leisure; especially for those with no access to their own outdoor space. However, since lockdown was ‘relaxed’ by the government, this commitment to ensuring our parks remain welcoming for all our residents has become increasingly difficult to achieve, and particularly at London Fields.
“While the park has had issues with antisocial behaviour in the past, this year is far worse than at any other point, and many of these problems are fuelled by alcohol. Our message is clear – we welcome everyone to our parks, unless their actions make the lives of other visitors and local residents a misery.”
The council is also hearing from young people through its Young Futures Commission that behaviour in London Fields is making them feel unsafe, with an associated concern about the potential for a spread of infection among Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities more at risk from coronavirus.
As at 25 June, 193 fines were issued at London Fields for urinating, defecating and littering in May and June alone, compared to just nine in the previous 12 months. Thirteen antisocial behaviour warning notices were issued in May, compared to just six in the previous 12 months.
As evidence that London Fields has become a destination for non-locals, 101 of the 193 fines were issued to people who do not live in Hackney, including 10 with SW postcodes, nine with SE postcodes and others from Ilford, Bow, Poplar, Archway, and as far afield as Chelmsford, Bishop’s Stortford, Bexley and St Albans.
The Town Hall has installed 25 large commercial waste bins at the park, as well as opened London Fields’ toilets with additional cleaning, implemented additional summer waste collections earlier than usual, and printed dozens of banners reminding people of the guidance.
An additional 12 enforcement officers are set to be recruited to help parks staff keep the borough’s green spaces safe and clean, with extra security guards already recruited at London Fields as the Town Hall voices its fears that problems could become worse over the summer months.
According to the Town Hall, behaviour management at London Fields comes with a £150,000 price tag, at a time when council finances are under extreme pressure during the coronavirus crisis.
Cllr Caroline Selman, Hackney Council’s cabinet member for community safety, policy and the voluntary sector, said: “It’s become clear as the lockdown has eased that London Fields is becoming a drinking destination for people from far beyond the local area, which in turn is leading to more organised entertainment and more people failing to treat the park or its neighbours with the respect they deserve.
“We and the police are concerned that this will only get worse over the summer months.
“Additional enforcement officers and a temporary ban on drinking are aimed at easing these issues while we consider longer-term options for the park.”