LONDON (Bywire News) - Keir Starmer has been severely criticised by constituents after backing a Tory campaign to fence off ordinary people from his local park.
Last week, the Labour leader called for the erection of nine-foot high barriers around Primrose Hill - London’s only permanently-open royal park - situated in his Holborn and St Pancras constituency.
The move came in response to reports of anti-social behaviour in the area, and will effectively ban ordinary people from entering the park on weekend evenings, and ensure that only wealthy residents - whose houses back onto the area - are able to access it.
Starmer’s personal intervention follows a widespread leafleting campaign by local Tory councillors claiming that, in order to solve anti-social behaviour on Primrose Hill, there was “no option but to close the park at night”.
According to the Camden New Journal, last week the Labour leader held a video call with local residents, councillors and police, before discussing the issue in a conversation with Andrew Scattergood, Chief Executive of The Royal Parks Charity.
Speaking on the issue, Starmer said:
“Primrose Hill is a fantastic green space, boasting one of the best views of the London skyline and we are very lucky to have it in Camden. Many people have enjoyed meeting up with friends and family there as lockdown has eased. However, serious anti-social behaviour from a selfish minority is taking a terrible toll on the surrounding community.”
However, the Labour leader’s decision to support the Tory proposals has infuriated many of his Holborn and St Pancras constituents.
Local resident, Amy McKeown - who has gained over a thousand signatures on her petition to ‘Keep Primrose Hill open” - told The Guardian:
“Closing and gating Primrose Hill is a nuclear and disproportionate solution for a temporary problem that could be managed by more effective policing,”
In her petition, McKeown claims that whilst an increase in young people in the park had “led to a concerted campaign by some locals, and Conservative Councillors to permanently gate the park and close it every night for all”, there were better solutions:
“Wardens and better policing, fines for music and littering, proper enforcement of park rules, temporary toilets, are all options that must be explored. We strongly believe that positive encouragement of behaviour change is a better way to address these issues than everyone losing out.”
Following the implementation of gates around the park, McKeown labelled the Labour leader “underhanded” for holding a discussion without the presence of anybody who was actually opposed to the proposal, adding:
“This is something that should be discussed as a community, and that meeting has now led to temporary gates being installed. So that has not gone down well at all.
“The concern is that if temporary barriers are put up it’ll be seen as the solution and permanent gates will follow. If that happens, we feel there’s a strong possibility Primrose Hill will start to be closed at dusk throughout the year and so many people do not want that.”
Whilst Catherine Usiskin, who has lived nearby the park for 40 years, also criticised the undemocratic nature of the discussion:
“It’s just so dispiriting that without full consultation, a minority of people have managed to effect a pretty radical change. To suddenly walk out and see a locked gate in front of me was shocking last night.”
Usiskin also went on to slam the 'elitist' nature of the decision, claiming:
“I’ve heard these young people described as hordes of so-called scum, drug addicts, criminals and so on, and a lot of the insults have had a racist tinge to them. And a class one. As if these kids are less than them.
“But this is a public park, not a private estate for the block of 300 flats or the houses that back on to the park. Where else can people go for free to relax with friends? It could not be a healthier place.”
In response to the criticism, Starmer’s constituency office attempted to justify the decision - claiming in a letter to McKeown’s campaign that they had received “firsthand accounts of very loud noise disturbance, fights and attacks on residents”, adding:
“Primrose Hill is a fantastic place which is immensely valued in the constituency, it is not available for large, noisy groups to gather late at night.”
Whilst Paul Clarke, a member of the Primrose Hill neighbourhood policing team, said in a statement:
“I fully appreciate that there will be some people that are upset by this decision, but the need to weigh up people’s right to use the Hill unhindered, against the health and welfare concerns of local residents due to the ongoing weekend night time issues, is something that needed to be fully considered.
“This has been a long running issue for local residents that needed a wider solution than just policing due to competing and more serious demands for our attendance that can come from across Camden and Islington.
“The police have put a considerable amount of resources into trying to deal with the issues on Primrose Hill and these were unsustainable in the medium to long term due to the reopening of the night time economy as a result of the easing of COVID restrictions.”
Since becoming Labour leader, Starmer has been dogged by criticism for his strangely agreeable stance towards Boris Johnson's Conservative Party - and his latest pro-Tory stance is highly unlikely to improve the situation.
[Writing by Tom D. Rogers, editing by Jessica Miller.]