Primrose Hill: Up go the fences for the first time in half a century
Temporary barriers continue to divide opinion
27 May, 2021 — By Bronwen Weatherby
Gates close at 10pm on Primrose Hill
NINE-foot-tall gates have now been erected at the entrances to Primrose Hill with padlocks going on at 10pm at weekends in a bid to stem anti-social behaviour.
However, the new gates fuelled further debate over whether parks should be locked up to the public: some felt a sense of a relief after months of late-night parties, drug deals and fights, others said they cut across the nature of open spaces.
The only park in London to remain open and lit 24 hours a day, people flocked to the Hill throughout the coronavirus lockdowns.
But its open-all-night status also attracted a series of unlicensed music events (UMEs) which attracted hundreds to party alongside large sound systems until the early hours.
Lucy Kelsey, who lives in nearby Meadowbank, said: “We are just a group of exhausted ordinary people who need to get a night’s sleep and feel safe in our homes.
“The residents affected by the extreme anti-social behaviour in and around the park come from all walks of life – we are a mixed and diverse community.”
She said claims that the measures had only been taken because the area had wealthy residents was “deeply upsetting and insulting to those individuals and families that have been suffering over so many months – particularly those who have been subject to abuse and physical assaults”.
A party that took place in the park in November
The decision to install the fences was made last week by the Royal Parks after chief executive Andrew Scattergood met Holborn and St Pancras MP Keir Starmer to discuss the issues that have been reported on by the New Journal for almost 12 months.
It is the first time the park has been physically closed in almost half a century.
Another resident Lucy Cottrell said: “Now the police, the parks, the councillors and Keir’s office are collectively on the case, and we see concrete actions, I feel confident those responsible are really committed to make sure we are safe and can sleep at night. Already I notice less drug cars and anti-social behaviour.
“We know the summer months and dispersing people will present fresh challenges, but there seems to be some light at the end of the dark tunnel.” But there are some who feel they have been excluded from the decision to close the park at night, and believe there should be better solutions than putting up barriers.
Amy McKeown, a member of a group who set up a public petition against the changes that has now got over 1,200 names, said: “We said we could potentially stand behind a ‘circuit breaker’ over the summer as long as it was accompanied by other things such as improved policing.
“If you just slam gates on the problem now, it will be easy to go from that step to saying there’s a need for permanent gates, and that’s what we absolutely do not want.”
Opponents say permanent gates would be “red line”
She added: “There is no doubt the situation was left to get out of hand last year but we don’t believe there are issues like that now. We go up there most nights and it’s calm with people just sat around socialising, so gating the park feels like their following bad decisions with more bad decisions.”
Martin Fisher, another opponent, said: “It feels as though unless you’re within hearing distance or sight of the Hill your voice doesn’t count, and that just isn’t fair.”
According to local historian Martin Sheppard, when authorities sought to close the old gates at night in 1976 to “reduce vandalism” those who fought the idea staged a sit-in at the park to prevent them from being shut.
“Padlocks were smashed and gates, and replacement gates mysteriously disappeared,” Mr Sheppard wrote in Primrose Hill: A History, adding that it “led to an agreement to leave the entrances of the park being left open day and night”.
Around 20 people attended a meeting on Saturday to become volunteers agreeing to litter pick and monitor the park for anti-social behaviour.
One person has also offered to pay for temporary toilets, although this has not yet been put to the parks’ management.
A protest is due to take place outside the park on Sunday, but those who set up the petition and survey said they are not the organisers of the demonstration.
A spokesperson for Mr Starmer said: “We are hopeful that this circuit breaker of temporary gates will address this issue and avoid the need for more permanent action. “Keir was elected to represent his constituents and remains absolutely committed to highlighting issues that are affecting them.”