Park users have branded Southwark Council “ridiculous” after it removed ping pong tables and benches from Camberwell Green to “tackle anti-social behaviour”.
Opposition politicians have piled pressure on the Labour council to reverse the decision, describing it as “organised destruction of community space” that “won’t reduce crime”.
But some Camberwell residents have backed the move, saying the amenities attracted “dodgy” people who used the ping pong area as “drinking tables”.
The Met Police said the “temporary measure” aimed to “prevent anti-social behaviour” and that they would “remain in contact with the council to decide when they can be put back in”.
It’s just the latest example of Southwark Council removing public amenities. The Burgess Park BBQ area has been closed since the first Covid-19 lockdown and Nursery Row Park recently had a plant walkway removed.
The Camberwell Green controversy came to light after a user on X (formerly Twitter) asked Southwark Council why it had removed table tennis tables and a bench from the park.
In a post since viewed over 80,000 times, Southwark Council replied: “We have reluctantly removed the tables on the recommendation of the police in an attempt to tackle the rise in anti-social behaviour in the park in recent months.”
Good afternoon. We have reluctantly removed the tables on the recommendation of the police in an attempt to tackle the rise in anti social behaviour in the park in recent months
— Southwark Council (@lb_southwark) September 18, 2023
Council workers reportedly removed the benches and tables last week using a crane-like device, leaving patches of scarred earth where the amenities once stood.
Park users have now told the News that a public toilet and hedges have also been removed from Camberwell Green in recent months.
People largely agree the tables were sometimes used for drinking but are divided over whether it amounted to anti-social behaviour.
Camberwell resident John Carr said: “They weren’t causing any problems. There was drinking going on but I didn’t really see any grief there.”
Local resident and regular park user Cole Moore said: “Simply put, they supplied us with these amenities but now they’ve become choosey about who should use them.
“We think the council are saying ‘it’s not your space and ‘we don’t want the likes of you using it’.”
Diana Ceccolini, 23, said: “I thought they were meant to be there for people to enjoy leisure activities… I think it’s really wrong to take it all away.”
However, the latest Met Police figures do show that anti-social behaviour is the most prevalent source of criminality in Camberwell Green, with 44 incidents reported in July.
Lorenzo Lerca, who has a motor neurone condition, said: “It was a good move from the council. It had become quite dangerous because the table tennis table was used as a drinking table.
“It became tricky for me because a lot of dodgy people were around. For me, as a disabled person, it became impossible to visit because they just bother you all the time.”
In a previous article on Camberwell Green local resident Adriana, 29, told the News: “I feel very intimidated as there are loads of druggies on the green. It’s not very family-friendly. They don’t clean it up a lot; the bins are overflowing.”
Southwark Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr Victor Chamberlain has since slammed the council’s decision, saying: “We’ve seen the organised destruction of Southwark’s existing community space.
“Distraught residents were not consulted and have been offered no explanation as to how this will tackle anti-social behaviour.
“This reactionary approach will most likely not reduce crime but is guaranteed to degrade the quality of our community spaces.”
Superintendent Shaz Shah, responsible for local policing in Southwark, said: “This decision was taken following consultation with the local authority and the community to prevent anti-social behaviour and other crime at the locations.
“It is a temporary measure alongside arranging for additional officers to patrol the area to respond to concerns. We met with community members to explain the reasons for this and they overwhelmingly supported the decision.”
This doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident. A volunteer at Nursery Row Park in Walworth has claimed the council recently uprooted plants, saying it came after police reported they were obstructing CCTV cameras’ views.
Luke Miller, Friends of Nursery Row Park Chair, said the council had contributed £10,000 to the plants, which were then installed by the volunteer group.
But he claimed that, on Tuesday, September 19, council workers were ordered to destroy the plants, leaving the park looking like “a wasteland”.
“We’re extremely angry and as a local community group we no longer see what our role is,” he said. “We spent a long time making the park somewhere nice…it makes me very angry indeed.”
Cllr Kieron Williams, Leader of Southwark Council, said: “Following residents’ concerns about antisocial behaviour, and after a recommendation from the police, some benches and a table tennis table have been removed from Camberwell Green and some planting from Nursery Row park, as a temporary measure while we address these issues.
“We will be consulting with residents about what we put back into the parks and how they can be improved in the future for all to enjoy.”
Meanwhile, the Burgess Park BBQ area has been closed since March 2020, causing consternation among those who used to enjoy using it.
Locals say the area was well-used and although there were issues, like ‘litter’ and a ‘lack of control’, it was somewhere people without gardens could enjoy being outdoors.
Southwark Council has been approached for comment.