COP26: Local reactions and Police apology as pedestrians forced to walk through unlit Kelvingrove park due to VIP dinner

Locals took to social media to voice their concerns after Argyle Street was closed for the VIP dinner at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

What’s happening? Police Scotland has apologised after concerns were raised over the safety of women forced to walk longer routes through unlit areas of Glasgow amid road closures in place for the COP26 climate summit.

Police Scotland explained that the particular diversion forcing people to walk through Kelvingrove Park on Monday 1 November was only temporary and there are no plans to reintroduce it.

It has said it will proactively introduce more patrols in areas where additional, last minute diversions are implemented.

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie said: “Residents were diverted on their way home, including on foot through Kelvingrove Park, following real-time changes to operational plans on Monday night.

“While late changes and some level of disruption is inevitable when policing an event the size and scale of COP26, we understand and apologise for the concern these changes caused and for the inconvenience to those diverted.

“We do, in particular, recognise and acknowledge the commentary from some women who had to walk through the park on their own last night, we want to keep everyone safe and we know that the onus is on us to recognise when we could provide some more support and visibility to reassure people in our communities.

“The diversion is no longer in place and there are no plans to reintroduce it. Should further diversions be required at short notice for operational purposes, we will look to establish additional patrols in the area to provide reassurance.

“We will work with Glasgow City Council to consider whether lighting in Kelvingrove Park can be improved.”

Why it matters: Just a few months after the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, many women have been calling for better safety measures to be put in place, including this feminist look at town planning.

Although diesel generated lights had been in place in the park throughout the day, these were not on at night.

Social media users have described the diversion as “disorganised” and “unsafe” with one Glasgow councillor, Eva Murray, sharing on twitter that people were having to use phone torches just to see in front of them.

“When I reached the path it was complete darkness, my heart just sank because I suddenly thought to myself ‘oh god, this is how things happen’.

Speaking to The Scotsman, a Glasgow-based photographer, who asked not to be named, was forced to walk through Kelvingrove Park in the dark at 6pm after the area was closed off for the world leaders’ dinner reception.

She said: “I used to cycle and walk through the park all the time, but one thing I would absolutely never do is walk through the park at night, and we all know why.

“I think that the older you get, the more aware you become of not putting yourself in these situations, so that’s what was different about last night.”

She described seeing a heavy police presence and generator lights in the area earlier in the day and said she “stupidly assumed” the park would have a different, “well-lit atmosphere.”

She continued: “When I reached the path it was complete darkness, my heart just sank because I suddenly thought to myself ‘oh god, this is how things happen’.

“You go along and take all the necessary precautions but make a wrong assumption that something would be safe and suddenly you’re in total darkness in a park and you can’t see your feet in front of you.”

Clarifying that she thinks Glasgow hosting COP26 is an extremely positive thing she added: “We’ve been asking for lights for a long time, I don’t know what the reasons are for not doing it, but if this could be a potential legacy from the climate summit in addition to the climate measures that will hopefully be agreed upon, it would be amazing.”

According to Get Ready Glasgow, Kelvin Way was closed from Friday, October 29 until Tuesday November 2, to all traffic including walkers, wheelers and cyclists because of the summit.

It will be closed again to vehicles on November 5 and 6 due to marches scheduled to take place.

Kayleigh Quinn was in the Finnieston area just before 5pm on Monday to pick up her daughter from nursery and said that there were around 30 people between Kelvingrove Street and Derby Street speaking to officers, showing ID as proof of address, but being told to walk through the park.

She said: “Carers weren’t even allowed to cross to reach vulnerable residents when they showed their cordia badge.

“Glasgow women have been campaigning for better lighting in the parks for years, so for Police Scotland and the council to say they’ll look at it now is the COP exceptionalism we’ve seen from the travel cards provided to delegates, extra trains, Sunday subway services, better pay for lawyers just for the fortnight to get protesters through the courts.”

“It’s beyond time that the lives of women and girls were valued and respected”

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon has condemned the situation saying that it is an example of how women’s safety is a “complete afterthought.”

She said: “It’s ridiculous that Police Scotland and the COP26 organisers are able to make meticulous plans for the safety and welfare of VIPs, yet women are being forced to walk through unlit parks at night. This needs to stop immediately.

“No wonder people are angry. It’s beyond time that the lives of women and girls were valued and respected, and only bold system change beyond the corridors of COP26 will achieve this.”

A Glasgow City Council spokesman said: “We have been working very hard to let people know about the restrictions that are in place for the climate change conference so that they can plan ahead and work around the security measures.

“For on the ground, operational reasons, Police Scotland changed the diversions at short notice last night, Monday, November 1, and diverted members of the public through Kelvingrove Park. Police Scotland has apologised for the concern and inconvenience caused by these last minute changes.

“We’d identified an alternative route on the back of the original restrictions via the park to lessen the impact on the public with four additional lighting rigs installed and we understand that members of the public might have taken other routes that we couldn’t have predicted.

“We make every effort to make sure that residents and businesses are told about restrictions well in advance. Whenever we are notified of changes they are posted on social media, as they were last night.”

A version of this article first appeared on our sister site, The Scotsman