Following the murder of Iuliana Tudos in Finsbury Park in December and the subsequent completion of the Environmental Visual Audit report by local police for the park, in April the Friends of Finsbury Park launched an online consultation to hear the views of local residents and park users on safety in the park.
Those who took part in the consultation were asked:
• Whether they thought that Finsbury Park was a safe place to visit;
• Which of a list of options they would support as a means to improve safety in the park; • What they felt were some of the root causes to the feeling of a lack of safety in the
park and how these could be tackled.
249 local residents responded to the consultation. There is a strong and diverse representation from all of the neighbourhoods surrounding the park and from each of the three local authorities who border the park:
Of the circa 250 respondents who took part in the online consultation, 52% felt that the park was either ‘unsafe’ or ‘very unsafe’. Around 12% thought that the park was ‘safe’ and less than 1% found the park ‘very safe’, with the remainder of respondents feeling that safety in the park was ‘adequate’.
Is Finsbury Park a safe place?
Of those who took part in the online consultation, 52% felt that the park was either ‘unsafe’ or ‘very unsafe’. Only around 12% were prepared to state that they thought the park was ‘safe’ and less than 1% found the park ‘very safe’, with the remainder of respondents feeling that safety in the park was ‘adequate’.
How would you improve safety in the park?
Respondents were offered a list of ten proposed measures to improve safety in the park, based on the recommendations submitted by the police:
- All park gates should be closed at dusk and opened at dawn
- All park gates should close at late night, for example from 10pm
- The park gates should remain open 24 hours a day
- There should be lighting around the main pathways in the park at night for safe passage through the park
- Do not light the park at night – night activity in the park should be discouraged
- The boundary fences around the park should be repaired and strengthened
- The Manor House Lodge area and the surrounding garden should be improved and made safer
- The benches near park entrances should be moved further inside the park to prevent people loitering in these areas
- The shelters/huts inside the park should be removed
- Bins inside the park should be redesigned so as to prevent drugs and dangerous weapons being stored inside them
Closing the park gates at night
Unlike many large parks in London, many of the gates into Finsbury Park remain open 24 hours a day, which may contribute to the presence of anti-social behaviour within the park. 72% of respondents felt that the park gates should be closed overnight, either at dusk or at some regular time every night such as 10pm, with the remaining 18% suggesting that the gates should remain open 24 hours a day.
Lighting inside the park
The absence of proper lighting in the park was another area of concern for many local residents. 50% of respondents agreed that lighting should be introduced along the main pathways running through the park, while 31% felt that the introduction of lighting in the park would encourage night activity which would in turn make the park a more dangerous place, rather than a less dangerous one.
Bins and boundary fences
64% felt that the weak boundary fences along the park, some of which is in need of serious repair, should be strengthened to improve safety in the park. 76% felt that bins inside the park should be redesigned so as to prevent drugs and dangerous weapons being stored inside them.
What is responsible for safety problems in the park?
The consultation also allowed park users to share their experiences of feeling unsafe in the park. Of those who responded:-
- Policing – 48 suggested that the absence of a regular police presence in the park was responsible for safety problems
- Events – 43 Suggested that festivals and large-scale events increased the sense that the park is not safe
- Litter – 21 Suggested that a poor level of litter collection made the park an uninviting place to go to
- Park wardens – 41 Suggested that an increased presence of park wardens would make the park a safer place
- Homelessness – 14 mentioned the homelessness problem in the park as contributing to its safety problem
- Speeding and traffic – 13 mentioned that speeding and traffic around the main carriageway is a considerable safety concern
We have also met with Catherine West MP to discuss how safety in the park can be improved. Catherine shared many of the concerns expressed by local residents and is keen to explore increasing the police presence in the park.
Explanations for lack of park safety
Below are some example consultation responses:
‘There has been a noticeable deterioration of the park in the last couple of years. It is not ok that local residents feel unsafe to use the park and therefore do not benefit from the biggest green space in the area. The park is scruffy, there are unsavoury characters on benches and rough sleeping and the cafe facilities are so run down that I don’t feel comfortable using the toilets. I hope this is all addressed as a priority’
‘Just send the police every day! How difficult can it possibly be? How many other proof do they need? There is a bunch of kids selling drug EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Seriously, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes, just walk past them and see what they tell you. Also the area surrounding the tube station is becoming A DUMP. I’m considering moving away in a few months (after having lived in Stroud Green for over 5 years) as the situation is becoming honestly unbearable. My girlfriend is scared to walk around by herself, it didn’t use to be like that. Shameful.’
‘Police should be encouraged to have a more regularly visible presence within the park – there should be multiple patrols daily, at minimum, and at best there should be a constant police presence. This is because antisocial behaviour in the park is not just noticeable but it is obvious all through the year, and added to this we have a summer of events coming up which will only drastically increase the instances of drug use and associated antisocial behaviour. No amount of private security will quell this as offenders know there is no right to arrest. The situation the Park finds itself in with regard to safety is laughable from the perspective of what is actually done about antisocial behaviour there.’
‘Drug dealing is rife and goes unchallenged on a daily basis. Very few staff in the park – this is a major factor in the park’s safety. Littering is a big problem and has a ‘broken window’ effect – encouraging further ASB and giving the message that the park is uncared for and not important. The Jamboree section of the park should be taken back into normal use – it is currently an eyesore and used by drug dealers as a place to stash drugs and weapons. This used to a real asset for the park. The council must make this space usable for ordinary park users and not leave it fenced of and decaying.’
‘I just moved from Stoke Newington where Clissold Park was open dawn until dusk – park staff were always visible, there were no tents and large groups of people drinking and drug using overnight – bar maybe a few bunches of teenagers in the summer – Surely with all the money made from festivals over the summer it would be possible to staff it, clear it at night and lock it up and establish who is camping in the park to ideally provide with council support to look to house if homeless.’
‘Loitering is a frequent occurrence in Finsbury Park and the existence of not of benches does not make any difference. It seems that much of the loitering is associated with drug dealing in the park and therefore, the most appropriate response would be to have policy visiting the park more frequently. We generally get between ten to twenty young people standing near the entrance and paths in the park and it feels very threatening to have to walk right in the middle of them when crossing the park.’
The majority of local residents and park users do not think that Finsbury Park is a safe place to visit. This should be of serious concern both to Haringey Council and to the police. The volume of responses and the severity of some of the issues raised demonstrate that there is a community consensus about the lack of safety in the park, and suggests that the murder in December, as well as the rape which took place in the park just a few weeks ago, are not one-off incidents but are part of a broader trend of increased crime in Finsbury Park in recent months.
The need to improve safety in the park is urgent. While is true that crime rates in London have risen more generally, this is an inadequate reason on its own to dismiss safety concerns in Finsbury Park. Safety problems in Finsbury Park would appear to be much more acute than those of neighbouring parks. Haringey Council and the police must act now to create a safe environment in the park which park users find welcoming. Failure to do so risks allowing recent events to repeat themselves. We will continue to work with local police offers, councillors and MPs to ensure that safety in Finsbury Park becomes one of their top priorities.