Victoria Park closure provokes huge criticism from Tower Hamlets residents

Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets is now closed due to coronavirus. Picture: Ken Mears

Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets is now closed due to coronavirus. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets has been closed due to coronavirus.

The closure — which has received huge criticism — was announced in a joint statement by Tower Hamlets council and central east basic command unit (BCU).

On Monday night prime minister Boris Johnson declared a three-week lockdown, with once-a-day exercise still allowed under the new rules.

This is why Victoria Park remained open until the news broke on Wednesday night.

32-year-old Elliott Weaver, who lives by Columbia Road, says the decision wrongly punishes everyone: “Many in the area live in tiny flats with no outside space. Where are we now supposed to exercise now? The vast majority are abiding by social distancing.”

Elliott urged the authorities to “at least try to enforce the social distancing first before straight up closing the park.”

Local resident Kirsty Finlayson, who is an executive member of the Poplar and Limehouse conservative party, also disagreed with the decision:

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“This will severely affect many east Londoners’ mental as well as physical health.”

One such east Londoner is 35-year-old Rebecca Pate who lives in Stratford.

She often runs in Victoria Park to combat her anxiety, and says exercise is especially vital during a “very frightening and uncertain time.”

Though unpopular, the council felt compelled to act. A spokesman said: “While many visitors to the park were behaving responsibly and exercising individually as recommended, a significant number of visitors insisted on gathering in groups, holding picnics, drinking, sunbathing and playing football and team sports.

“These visitors ignored requests from our park and community safety teams to stop their activities. When the crowds of people became unmanageable, our response was escalated to involve the local police.”

Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, supports the decision, though she acknowledged it was not easy to make.

She said: “It is disappointing that the failure of some visitors to adhere to the social distancing guidance has to lead to the closure of the park, limiting outdoor access to those who need it the most - those living in small and overcrowded accommodation.”

Both the council and Ms Ali concluded by urging everyone to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives.