Primrose Hill gates row: People just ‘chilling out in hot weather'

Park barriers are knocked down

Thursday, 3rd June 2021 — By Bronwen Weatherby

cnjpicsjune3 Image 2021-06-03 at 12.46.50 (24)

Visitors enjoying the park over the Bank Holiday weekend

CAMPAIGNERS who are opposed to fencing off Primrose Hill at night have insisted most people in the park are “chilling out in small groups” – and police could have easily dealt with disturbances.

New gates were locked at night on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday as part of attempts to cut anti-social behaviour.

The barriers were found damaged in some places amid a row over whether there should be round-the-clock access to the green space.

Amy McKeown, a member of the Keep Primrose Hill Open group, who are campaigning for access to the park at all times, said: “It is absolutely clear that 99 per cent of people on the hill were people sat chilling out in small groups.

“But there is one patch by the trees which is a bit of a party area and one man plays music attracting people to dance.”

She added: “On Saturday they moved him and it took around six officers about 15 minutes. Afterwards it was peaceful on the Hill and the kids who had been dancing helped us clear up their bottles.

“On the Bank Holiday, however, they made a decision not to intervene and nip it in the bud early on. Instead he was allowed to play music for six hours, building up a party of kids and then it was much harder to close the park at 10pm.

“They are kids dancing, not gangs, but obviously the longer a party is allowed to go on for the drunker and rowdier it gets.”

Students with anti-fence posters

On Sunday, a small group of students from University College London held up signs to oppose the closures.

“In comparison, there was a riot van there and four police officers stationed with them for an hour, so there’s completely disproportionate policing for some matters,” said Ms McKeown.

“Our group has said before that we could potentially support the gates circuit-breaker if other measures like improved policing came with it.

“What Monday showed us is that closing the park means police are happy for it to be a party venue until 10pm. It sent a message right at the start of the summer that you can come to the Hill and do whatever you want until 10 at night.”

One of the student protesters, Chloe Richardson, 20, said: “It was quite a small thing. We handed out flyers and talked to lots of people about the closures.

“There were definitely a few people who said they wanted the fences up, but the majority were against them. Lots hadn’t heard of the issues but most said they agreed with keeping the park open.”

She added: “I’m a uni student and I live about 15 minutes’ walk away from Primrose Hill and myself and a lot of my friends use it daily to relax, socialise, [and] take walks.

“Most of us don’t have private gardens so it’s important to us, and we’ll often be up there late in the summer.

“Some of the behaviour that residents have had to put up with is unacceptable but we believe there must be a way to deal with it that doesn’t involve gating off the park at 10pm at night.”

The new barriers are broken

The New Journal has been reporting for the past year on how residents say their lives have been made a misery by late-night gatherings, with reports of urinating in their front gardens, loud music, fights and claims of drug use.

The complaints led to the temporary fences going up last month.

Phil Cowan, a community campaigner, said: “I’ve been speaking to residents who live adjacent to the park and were worst affected by the anti-social behaviour, and broadly speaking everyone believes the situation has improved since the fences were installed.

“I think, had the fences not been there over the Bank Holiday, the ASB [anti-social behaviour] would’ve been much worse. It definitely seems to calm things down.”

He added: “Everyone is so thankful for what the police, councillors, parks and [Holborn and St Pancras MP] Keir Starmer have done. “If there was one improvement that could be made, it would be that the 10pm closure was communicated better through signs, even perhaps some in the tube stations.

“Because we’re seeing people arrive at the park at 8pm – and when they’re being turfed out at 10 they are rightly disgruntled.”

The barriers nearest Albert Terrace had been completely torn away overnight on Saturday, while those at the entrance nearest Regent’s Park Road had only been bent slightly back, creating enough room for a person to fit through.

The Royal Parks said it was aware of the damage to the fencing, but added: “The park will still, however, be closed this coming weekend.

As we work closely with the police in their duty to enforce the law we will continue to monitor and review the short-term introduction of temporary fencing at the park over the next few weekends.”

The police were contacted for a comment on the situation but none was available as the New Journal went to press.

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