This report provides an overview of actions taken in parks and open spaces in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Steve Hollingworth (Assistant Director Leisure Sports and Culture) introduced the report that highlighted the actions taken by the Council in parks and open spaces in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. On 22nd March a decision was taken by the Council to close all parks due to the lack of social distancing and health risk from the spread of the virus. Following the closure of the parks, many complaints were received from the public. Most people understood why this action was taken, but also placed an importance on the value of green spaces for exercise, walking dogs and for mental wellbeing. It was noted that parks were re-opened on 27th March once all signage was in place and enough staffing was secured to engage with residents and help maintain social distancing.
The following measures were implemented by the Council to ensure that parks were being managed in a safe way:
· The Parks Police worked closely with CCTV to ascertain which parks had immediate need for response.
· Temporary restrictions were introduced on cycling and jogging between 10am and 6pm to allow pedestrians to use the riverside path more freely.
· Several marshals were introduced on Hammersmith Bridge to encourage social distancing.
· Recommendations were put in place to limit the number of people attending funerals in line with Government guidance.
· Idverde, the Council’s ground maintenance contractor, introduced safe working practices for staff to maintain social distancing and provided good resilience.
· Litter was identified as a significant issue in parks as many people neglected to take their litter home with them. However, this was cleared away on a daily basis.
· Tennis courts were reopened in mid-May with appropriate signage and a new online booking system in place.
· Toilets in Ravenscourt and Bishops Park were currently only open between 9am and 3pm to ensure that there were enough staff available to keep them clean.
· Council services, including the parks team, were reviewing their performance during the lockdown, ready to respond to a potential second lockdown if required.
Councillor Victoria Brocklebank-Fowler thanked officers for providing a detailed report and was impressed with the work carried out by Idverde during the period of uncertainty. She felt that 3pm was too early to close the toilets in Ravenscourt and Bishops Park due to the increase in visitors during the summer months and urged officers to review the opening hours.
Steve Hollingworth noted that the opening hours would be reviewed. He outlined the reasons why the opening hours for the toilets were reduced. Adequate resources were put in place to ensure that the toilets were managed in line with the Government guidelines.
Councillor Victoria Brocklebank-Fowler said that the padel tennis courts were a popular attraction with the local community and asked why these were not open. In response Steve Hollingworth explained that the padel tennis courts were created without planning permission. Therefore, the business was in breach of its lease and would need to apply for planning permission before the padel tennis courts could reopen.
Councillor Victoria Brocklebank-Fowler said that the Council had received a high volume of complaints from residents following the closure of parks in the borough. She noted the value of green spaces for exercise and mental wellbeing purposes, particularly during lockdown and felt that the closure had caused unnecessary inconvenience to residents.
Councillor Wesley Harcourt (Cabinet Member for the Environment) explained that a large number of people were congregating in open spaces, therefore the Council felt it was necessary to close the parks until appropriate social distancing measures were in place for the safety of the residents.
Councillor Iain Cassidy said that the River Walk was a focal point for managing social distancing in the borough and asked how local pubs worked with the Council to ensure public safety was being met. Steve Hollingworth explained that the Environmental Health Team visited pubs to ensure safety measures were in place. Overall pubs were responsible and did comply with the licensing advice provided by the Council.
Councillor Iain Cassidy asked whether the temporary restrictions for jogging and cycling were still in place along the Riverside Path. Steve Hollingworth explained that the hours had been reduced because there were fewer Police officers present along the River Walk to ensure the restrictions were being enforced. However, enforcement was now being carried out via CCTV and intelligence received by the Parks Police. Additionally, signage was still in place and this was regularly being reviewed by the Council.
Councillor Iain Cassidy said that the wider road section along Hammersmith Bridge had been split into two narrow walkways which caused accessibility issues for some people trying to cross the bridge. He asked for further clarification to be provided around the management of the Bridge. Steve Hollingworth said that a full updated response would be circulated to the Committee.
Councillor Ann Rosenberg noted that the Pavilion Café in South Park which provided access to a disabled toilet was closed during the week and asked when this would re-open again. Steve Hollingworth said that the Café should remain open during the summer months and would contact the tenant to ascertain the reasons for closure.
The Chair asked for clarification to be provided around the maintenance of public spaces in particular what could be done to prevent dangerous littering after an unauthorised event took place. Steve Hollingworth explained that the Police were not issuing fixed penalty notices for littering. However, the Council’s contractors were clearing litter on a daily basis to ensure the parks were safe for public to use. In addition, the Council would also look to place additional signage to encourage people to take their litter home with them. Regarding illegal gatherings the Police were actively seeking intelligence to prevent these from taking place across London and were issuing fixed penalty notices where necessary.
The Chair thanked officers and the Council’s contractors for their hard work and efforts during these unprecedent times.
THAT, the Committee noted and commented on the report.