Southwark Council’s leader, Cllr Peter John, has criticised the way the government announced changes to the lockdown this week, saying it wrongly led people to expect bigger changes, and caused confusion.
From today, people in England are allowed to take unlimited forms of exercise outdoors, sunbathe in parks, and meet one person from another household with social distancing outside.
The council’s top boss raised fears the new moves might add pressure to already busy parks and appealed on residents to use their common sense when meeting a friend.
“The biggest change is unlimited exercise throughout the day, and that could put pressure on our parks,” he said.
“This does make it more difficult for the police.
“We saw at the weekend how people crowded into Burgess Park and along the riverfront by Potters Field Park.
“Through these changes the government is inviting people to apply common sense, and as a council that’s all we can do too.”
He encouraged residents to not substantially modify their behaviour despite the limited new freedoms, saying: “Lockdown is not over.”
Cllr John however declined to further criticize the handling of the lockdown modification or issues around PPE and testing, saying: “I’m not going to carp on and whinge from the sidelines.”
Reports this week have claimed that a proposed extension of the Bakerloo Line to Lewisham via the Old Kent Road could be sacrificed in order for TfL to get a £2bn bailout from the government.
This would jeopardise the council’s much planned regeneration of the Old Kent Road, which aims to deliver 20,000 new homes.
But despite himself warning the project could be junked over coronavirus, Cllr John said he had been assured by City Hall and TfL that it was still on the table.
“I’m assured that there’s been no conversations between either TfL, City Hall or the Government that puts the Bakerloo Line up as a bargaining chip.
“It’s still alive… and the council is continuing to push for it.”
The overarching challenge for the council remains its finances, with town hall officials across the country sounding the alarm over an apparent government u-turn on whether it would cover the shortfalls in come and rise in expenditure throughout the crisis.
No further clarity has yet been forthcoming from the government, said Cllr John, despite Southwark facing a £45m shortfall in its budget, and hefty cuts at the budget next year.
Last week the Bank of England said we could see the sharpest downturn in the economy since the 1700s over the coronavirus crisis, which could cost many Southwark residents their jobs.
While acknowledging the gravity of the situation that a deep recession would leave many in, Cllr John struck an optimistic note for Southwark charting a path to recovery.
“Southwark is at the heart of London, the capital city, and a world city,” he said. “If we as a council can’t create opportunities for growth and employment, then no-one can.”
- Read More: Southwark News Comment – Confused? We are too – best just to stay at home as much as possible