Council chiefs have been praised after heeding the Communities Secretary’s call to reopen parks and cemeteries to allow the public open space to exercise in during the lockdown.
Robert Jenrick made the plea on April 18 during the daily coronavirus Downing Street press conference, asking councils to do all they could to ensure parks were open following the decision to extend social distancing measures until at least May 7.
The Cabinet minister, following his request, has commended councils for their work in reopening 340 parks and green spaces parks across the country in time for the fifth weekend of the lockdown.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said about 340 parks and green spaces reopened in the last week, including Central Park in Boston, Lincolnshire, Himley Park in Dudley, West Midlands, and Cusworth Park in Doncaster.
Results of a survey by the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces has shown that 90% of Friends of Parks groups, which help maintain parks across the UK, were reporting that parks in their area were again open.
Mr Jenrick MP said: “While the virus does not discriminate, we know that the lockdown is much harder for people who don’t have a lot of living space, a garden, or anywhere for their children to run around. People need parks.
“I’m grateful for the work of councils who have ensured, ahead of this weekend, that most parks across England are now open and cemeteries and graveyards in their area are also open for visitors.
“We’ll continue to work closely with them to try to get the remaining parks open soon, wherever possible.
“Importantly, I want to stress that we must all continue to play our part in the national fight against coronavirus by continuing to observe social distancing when we exercise in parks.”
Police continue to have the power to break up any gatherings of more than two people, as part of Government rules designed to stem the spread of Covid-19.
Government lockdown rules dictate that people should only leave the house for very limited purposes, including taking exercise, shopping for essentials, providing care or going to a job that cannot be done from home.
Matthew Bradbury, chair of the Parks Alliance, added: “During this crisis parks are enabling people to stay healthy across the country whilst following the Government’s guidance on social distancing.
“For those without gardens local parks have never been more important.”
Mr Jenrick had also asked for councils to keep open or reopen cemeteries and graveyards for people to be able to visit and attend memorials of loved ones.
The Government has now updated its guidance to make it clear that burial grounds and cemeteries, grounds surrounding crematoria and gardens of remembrance may remain open.
Islington and Camden councils in north London faced criticism after closing their jointly-run cemeteries, and the green spaces within them, to all but mourners.
The decision included locking the gates of the 190-acre St Pancras and Islington cemetery in Barnet, home to the resting places of famous names such as artist Ford Madox Brown and the Capital’s pearly king founder Henry Croft, after recording greater numbers of people using its paths and woodland for exercise.
Islington Council leader Richard Watts told the Islington Gazette the local authority was reversing the closures, having initially blamed a number of “unhappy incidents” where people had “ disturbed funerals and mourners” for having made the closures.