Councils urged to keep parks open unless social distancing is 'impossible'

Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Monday that he had called local leaders to warn them to be "very judicious" in locking open spaces.

Monday, 6th April 2020, 12:11 pm
Updated Monday, 6th April 2020, 2:53 pm
Councils are being urged to keep parks open unless social distancing is impossible

One London authority closed a park over the weekend after reporting thousands of visitors flocking to it to enjoy the sun and warmth breaking through.

Other news: 'We are here for you': borough charity's message to residents'But there are concerns that public confidence could be lost if those in power with gardens and ample living space tell those who live in crowded conditions they cannot go to the park or exercise outdoors.

Mr Jenrick agreed he has a "lot of sympathy" with those concerns as he said he had spoken to "a number" of councils who had closed parks over the weekend.

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"This is their decision, but I have asked them to be very judicious in taking that step and only to do that where they feel it is impossible to maintain social distancing rules within their parks or open spaces," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I think that is what motivated them over the weekend."

Sunny, warmer-than-average conditions are set to continue this week, with a peak of around 24C (75.2F) forecast for Wednesday and Thursday in southern England, the Met Office said.

Mr Jenrick implored people to stay inside, with the potential for more good weather and the Easter weekend approaching being big temptations to breach the lockdown.

He insisted there are no "imminent plans" to impose greater restrictions after warnings that outside exercise could be banned.

"It would be very unfortunate if we had to do so and make it harder for people, particularly people who live in flats in towns and cities, to get the exercise they deserve," he told BBC Breakfast.

And he suggested that measures could be relaxed before long if the "excess capacity" in NHS intensive care units can be maintained.

"If we can do that then we can look in the weeks to come to begin to very carefully... lift some of those measures," he said via a video-link that was facing connection issues.

"But an exit strategy that's sustainable will also have to be accompanied by much greater testing and tracing than we are able to do today."

One council to shutter a green space was Lambeth, which closed Brockwell Park in south-east London after saying 3,000 people, many sunbathing or in large groups, had visited on Saturday.

The park reopened on Monday and councillor Sonia Winifred said she hoped the temporary closure ensured that the message was "crystal clear" to people who flouted social distancing measures.

She said the local authority was "working hard" to keep parks open during the crisis but stressed that people must follow the rules.

"We will continue to monitor social distancing as far as possible during this lockdown, in co-ordination with the police," she said.

Police moved people on in north-west London's Primrose Hill and rules were breached on the south coast too, but the consensus in Government is that the public are largely obeying the rules.

But there is some public confusion over whether it is acceptable to sit down and enjoy the sunshine when once-daily exercise is condoned under the official guidelines.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, however, warned that "sunbathing is against the rules".