Feedback on leaving gates unlocked at night

In October we informed Friends of Ruskin Park members and subscribers – in our newsletter and on our website and social media – that Lambeth Council are considering no longer locking park gates at night. We set out a number of mitigations that Lambeth Landscapes had highlighted and their questions for FoRP members.

We received 45 written responses from our members and committee, summarised below. All individual responses will also be shared with Lambeth Council, with personal details removed.

Do park users support this change?

We have classified responses based on their overall view of the leaving the gates unlocked. A majority (53.3%) were clearly opposed to the park gates being left unlocked at night, a significant minority (28.9%) support the change, with 17.8% neutral or undecided.

Existing issues

While many park users do not perceive significant crime and anti-social behaviour in and around Ruskin Park at the moment, the responses highlighted a number of existing issues:

  • The most significant concern is the increase in rough sleeping in the park, and the sense that not enough is being done at the moment to support homeless people to move on to accommodation.
  • There are also concerns about fly-tipping – including meat being dumped – near the park gates.
  • There are incidences of groups staying in the park after closing, causing noise nuisance, and safety concerns for residents in neighbouring properties.

What are park users’ concerns if the gates were left unlocked?

A range of concerns were expressed. In summary:

  • That noise from groups in the park after dark would increase.
  • That rough sleeping and associated problems – including safety for those people sleeping in tents who may be targets of crime – would increase.
  • A lack of confidence that Lambeth Council or the Police have the capacity or funding for enforcement to deter anti-social behaviour.
  • That while appreciating locked gates do not entirely prevent people from being in the park at night, leaving them unlocked could give a false impression of safety in the park and encourage people to enter. Respondents were not convinced that signage would discourage even otherwise law abiding residents from entering.
  • For a few, that lighting a main path through the park would increase light pollution and impact negatively on wildlife.

Why do some park users support the change?

Some residents are enthusiastically in favour of leaving the gates unlocked if lighting can be provided to at least a main route.

  • For most, the key benefit would be for those (particularly commuters) wanting to travel from Denmark Hill to Loughborough Junction on dark evenings.
  • Others would be attracted by evening access to sports facilities.
  • A small number of respondents felt that a main path with lighting could help reclaim the park from anti-social behaviour and increase safety.

A number of those categorised as ‘neutral’ recognised these benefits in theory but lacked confidence in the proposed mitigations or Lambeths Council’s ability to resource and deliver them.

Could community volunteers undertake locking and unlocking of the gates?

Lambeth Landscapes asked Friends groups if there is any interest in volunteers taking on the locking and unlocking function.

  • Volunteers already support a number of key park functions, including litter-picking, running the paddling pool and gardening tasks. FoRP volunteers and trustees are also leading a number of projects to improve the park for the future.
  • There were 7 responses from park users who would be willing to take part in a rota for locking the park, and some were concerned about maintaining enough volunteer coverage to consistently lock the park.
  • FoRP is already struggling to attract enough regular volunteers. Therefore the trustees would not currently be comfortable in FoRP offering to take on this role. If members disagree and want to organise this then we would listen.

Summary and other comments

  • The majority of park users responding are opposed to leaving the gates unlocked at night, with concerns about anti-social behaviour and community safety.
  • Some are in favour of leaving the gates open, to benefit travel between Denmark Hill and Loughborough Junction in the evening, and also enable the use of sports facilities with proper lighting.
  • FoRP has welcomed the already-planned reinstatement of a designated Park Attendant for Ruskin Park, and the additional support from Partnership Plus police officers, which is needed even if the gates are locked at night.
  • Parks are valuable assets for health, wellbeing and the environment and need properly resourced management, not more spending cuts. There are issues in how the park is managed – including the increase in rough sleeping – that are not currently being addressed, and this reduces confidence that Lambeth Landscapes would be able to mitigate additional issues caused by the gates being unlocked at night.
  • In their individual comments, a few members have raised alternatives such as lighting and opening the park (or a main route) only until a fixed time such as 9pm to allow some evening access. Others have asked if Lambeth could provide examples of similar parks in comparable neighbourhoods that are left unlocked and how this has been managed.