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London’s Primrose Hill To Close Gates At Night After Row That Divided Locals

There will be no more conversing with the spiritual sun on Primrose Hill for William Blake fans, or anyone else for that matter – at least not at weekends, after Royal Parks announced plans to close the park overnight.

Whether it should remain open after dark at weekends has divided the north London community around the park in Camden, after late-night parties on the hill peaked during Covid lockdowns, but disruption continues to be an issue for some residents.

The former Channel 4 broadcaster and resident Jon Snow has spoken out over Royal Parks’ plans for closing the famous hill that provides a sweeping panorama of central London’s skyline with, at a vantage point towards the top of the park, a stone etching featuring lines attributed to Blake: “I have conversed with the spiritual sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill.”

Snow, who lives a couple of hundred yards from the park and walks his dog there, has said that claims of disruptive antisocial behaviour are out of proportion.

He told the Guardian: “I honestly think they have really built themselves a problem, and they are trying to create one which doesn’t exist. We are not talking about serious disruption. If there was an issue we would have heard about it; I haven’t heard anyone discussing this.

“I walk my dog up there some time before 10pm, and I go in to the park. I think I would see if anything was going on, or hear it going on if it is the scale that has been talked about, and I haven’t seen this problem.”

The problems began during the first Covid lockdown in 2020. As bars and nightclubs were shut, during the unseasonably warm weather people began to hold parties, which saw sound systems, fireworks and antisocial behaviour, creating sleepless nights for those nearby. The matter was complicated by policing being handed over by the Royal Parks’ force to the Met at 11pm, and both suffering with a lack of officers due to cuts.

As complaints built, the Royal Parks installed a Covid-style “circuit-breaker” of temporary gates, which were briefly removed before being reinstated last year after renewed reports of crime. Permanent gates will now be installed and closed from 10pm to 6am on Friday to Sunday for seven months of the year.

The issue has threatened to tear part of the neighbourhood apart. One group in support of permanent gates, like those on nearby Regent’s Park, put together a petition signed by hundreds that was never open to public scrutiny, and a video that was sent to politicians, parks’ representatives and police calling for permanent gates which was not released to the public either.

The other group, opposed to the gates, accused them of lobbying behind closed doors to change access to a public space. Both sides have claimed they have been trolled online in a breakdown of community relations. They also disagree about the scale of the problem three years on.

Eleanor Sturdy, a resident who chairs the area’s crime panel, was assaulted by one of the people in the park when she confronted them about loud music. She said the breakdown in relations had been regrettable. “It was really sad because some of the people weren’t listening to each other,” she said. “It did become divisive with things on social media, but some people weren’t speaking the truth.

“There is crime still going on. We have had reports of sexual assaults, people being assaulted with machetes and fireworks going off. I think this is the right idea.”

Not everyone agrees. Amy McKeown, who is part of the Primrose Hill Keepers group of volunteers that has met weekly for two years to try to come up with solutions without the need for gates, said: “This has shredded the community. It has been nasty, bitter and divisive, and not what we wanted at all. We have tried to be open and collaborative to work together but our efforts have been shunned by the Royal Parks.”

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McKeown, a workplace mental health consultant, said the closure would take away green space used by residents without gardens. “The people who suffer here won’t be the homeowners who made up the majority of responses. It will be people in flats who don’t have a garden, or shift workers, or people with mental health conditions who use the hill at night.

“We know that access to green space is so important to people’s mental health, and to take that away is really sad. It is a failure by the Royal Parks completely.”

A survey was run by the Royal Parks in November, with five of six options suggested to “manage” the park involving gates. While “never” doing so was the joint most popular with 23.2% of responses, it was outweighed by other responses wanting gates in some form.

There is relief from some. Lucy Cottrell, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to get permanent gates installed, said she hoped that people will move on. “It is a welcome and positive measure that will reduce the levels of antisocial and criminal behaviour on and around Primrose Hill.”

A Royal Parks spokesperson said: “There have been very strong views on both sides of the debate between those who wish to see the park locked at night and those who wish to keep it open. It is, however, incumbent on the Royal Parks to take a balanced and proportionate decision, which it has now done.”

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