Council to seek temporary alcohol ban at London Fields
Hackney Council is seeking an injunction to temporarily ban drinking in London Fields Park following weeks of unacceptably high levels of litter, public urination/defecation and disturbance to local people, which is significantly impacting on the local community and results in people feeling excluded from the park.
The injunction, if it is granted by the Court, will be in place for a temporary period while the Council engages further with local people and businesses on the issues and considers longer-term options to ensure the park is safe and remains an inclusive space for all park users.
A significant number of complaints from local residents in nearby streets and estates have been received by the Council - detailing the weekly disruption to their lives, with loud music, drunken behaviour, public urination, littering and public defecation making them feel unwelcome in the park and disrupting them at home. Examples of these complaints are included below.
Some recent weekends have seen thousands of people in the park, with DJs setting up sound systems; people urinating against trees in the park, in people’s gardens and outside their front doors; defecation in the park’s woodland; and dancing, loud music and noise continuing late into the night.
As of 25 June, the Council had issued 193 fines at London Fields for urinating, defecating and littering in May and June alone, compared to just nine in the previous 12 months. It also issued 13 antisocial behaviour warning notices in May, compared to just six in the previous 12 months.
101 of the 193 fines were issued to people who do not live in the borough, including 10 issued to people with SW postcodes, 9 with SE postcodes and others from Ilford, Bow, Poplar, Archway, and as far afield as Chelmsford, Bishop’s Stortford, Bexley and St Albans.
Young people have also told the Council’s Young Future’s Commission that the way some people behave in London Fields makes them feel unsafe in the park and concerned about the potential for spread of infection among BAME communities, who are more at risk from coronavirus.
While intended as a last resort, the injunction, if granted by the Court, is aimed at limiting the antisocial behaviour caused by drinking and large-scale music events. It will prohibit people in London Fields from: consuming alcohol; damaging wildlife; possessing, consuming or selling nitrous oxide, laughing gas or nitrous oxide; playing loud amplified music; lighting fires or barbecues; driving vehicles or using generators in the park; and leaving litter.
The injunction, if granted by the Court, would give the police the power of arrest for breaches of these conditions.
The Council has already put extensive measures in place to manage issues at London Fields: installing 25 large commercial waste bins at the park, opening toilets with additional cleaning, implementing additional summer waste collections earlier than usual, issuing nearly 200 fines for urinating and littering in May and June and printing dozens of banners reminding people of the guidance.
There are concerns that, as lockdown measures continue and pubs and restaurants continue to be impacted by social distancing restrictions, the issues may get even worse over the summer.
In addition to the injunction, the Council is set to recruit an additional 12 enforcement officers to support parks staff to keep London Fields and other parts of the Borough safe and clean over the summer months.
In the meantime, additional security guards are working with the Council to help manage the issues in London Fields.
The measures the Council is taking to manage behaviour at London Fields are coming at a cost of approximately £150,000, at a time when it is under extreme financial pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.
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.
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 fueled 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.
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.
Local residents’ views:
“Today I witnessed three individual groups of the public using the estate on Richmond Road as a toilet. This is unacceptable behaviour and inconsiderate for the local community as well as peoples homes.”
“There are people in this building who haven’t been out for two or three weeks because we have nowhere to go, nowhere that is safe for us to exercise or get some air.”
“On Saturday there was a huge gathering/ party/festival taking place in London fields, that went on to at least 3am Sunday morning. My friend told me, they were defecating, and urinating everywhere, in bins, on pavements outside people's home, in kerbs, and through the railings of Gayhurst Nursery sch. Absolutely disgusting..!!!”
“We live with two small children not far from London Fields. It is our local park. But we can't go there anymore - we have to drive out of the borough (I am heavily pregnant) instead. All weekend from early afternoon it’s just people drinking, and urinating, and worse, in the childrens’ playground, in the woods (even now it is shut, they were in there today), in all of the bushes, against trees. We can't go the morning after as it’s so grim and we can't let the children run free. It doesn't feel like a place for Hackney residents anymore.”
“This is disgraceful. No social distancing and you are letting people trash our park and endanger others. My son was told to f*** off when he told someone not to piss in the park.”
“As a resident of the area I usually spending time there on the weekend, but at the moment I do not feel safe to do so. It looked like a festival scene, people being drunk from early afternoon on, plastic and garbage everywhere, masses of people. I have never seen London Fields that busy, not even pre-lockdown. How can you defend that nothing is being done to parents with kids, who definitely cannot use the park at the moment (I don’t have kids and don’t feel comfortable there)?”
Views from members of the Council’s Young Future’s Commission, which looks into young people’s experiences in Hackney, how they view the borough, respond to its challenges and how they feel about Council services:
"I live opposite London Fields, there is a lot of antisocial behaviour, drinking and parties. It doesn’t feel welcome - it feels unsafe.”
"There is no social distancing - I was scared to go through there. I wouldn't want to affect anyone"
"More people should be concerned about others. If they think they’re in the high risk category, they should stay at home, even if they don't have the virus they should stay at home. Today I went to London Fields and it was packed.”
What effect do you think this will have on nearby businesses?
We appreciate that this may have an effect on some types of trade. We’ve worked with businesses to encourage them to trade responsibly, including by asking some traders on Broadway Market not to sell alcohol in open containers. We are speaking to businesses about the proposed injunction, which will not ban the sale of alcohol. We’ve asked businesses to support us by letting customers know that the Council is applying for a temporary ban on the consumption of alcohol in the park.
Are you anticipating a knock-on effect on nearby parks?
Because London Fields has become a destination for people who are not local residents - including one weekend where minibuses were seen arriving at the park - we are not anticipating a significant knock-on effect on nearby parks.
Full details of the injunction:
The Council is asking for an injunction which will prohibit any person from doing the following:
The Defendants, unless the Council has given prior written permission, are forbidden, whether by themselves or by instructing or encouraging others, from:
1. Organising or participating in any of the following activities in the Prescribed Area shown on the attached map marked Schedule 1:
i. consuming anything which a Police Officer or Authorised Person reasonably believes to be alcohol
ii. failing to comply with a request made by a Police Officer or Authorised Person to surrender anything which is reasonably believed to be alcohol
iii. unlicensed music events and/or Raves
iv. the destruction or damage of trees, shrubs, plants or any other flora, fauna, woodland or wildlife
v. the possession, consumption or sale of nitrous oxide, laughing gas or nitrous oxide, save when used for a valid and demonstrable medicinal purposes or is given to an animal as a medical remedy.
vi. the playing of loud amplified music
vii. the lighting of fires, stoves, barbeques and/or naked flames (with the exception of a cigarette lighter) on any equipment or entertainment device
viii. the entry of vehicles, including any engine or generator, onto any part of the Restricted Area, with the exception of vehicles/engines/generators belonging to the emergency services.
ix. leaving litter in the Prescribed Area
The Council intends to ask for a power of arrest to be attached to the above clauses.