A Harborough councillor is urgently imploring council chiefs to work with both outraged residents and youngsters to stamp out repeated late-night trouble at a popular Market Harborough park.
Cllr Phil Knowles said Harborough District Council has to pull out all the stops to stop hundreds of teenagers and young people making life “hell” for people living near Little Bowden Recreation Ground on Northampton Road.
He spoke out as the council warned that it will fence off the park and close it down if mass disturbances continue to flare up.
The council, backed up by Harborough police, has vowed to get tough in a letter it’s sent to over 100 angry residents living near the park.
Cllr Knowles told the Harborough Mail: “We have had a very difficult situation at Little Bowden rec for weeks now – and we need to pay it urgent attention.
“My heart goes out to the people who live around the park.
“They have had to put up with loud noise, heavy drinking, drug-taking and rubbish strewn all over the place.
“Broken glass has been scattered all over the grass,” said Cllr Knowles, who leads the council’s Liberal Democrat group.
“This is very dangerous and totally unacceptable behaviour.
“And being realistic this could well go on throughout the spring and summer with the good weather approaching unless we act now.
“The council has to be both reactive and pro-active because there is a wider issue at stake here.
“We’ve got to take urgent security measures to stop this trouble getting out of hand and making local people’s lives a misery.
“And we also have to talk to the youths and young people gathering at the park to try to find workable alternatives.
“This is the time, the opportune moment, to come up with creative solutions to this anti-social menace and sort it out once and for all,” said Cllr Knowles.
“We have to try to facilitate other meeting places for young people where they can get together on a night without wrecking everyone else’s night.
“And if we can do that then everybody should be happy.
“But I must stress that the long-suffering residents living around Little Bowden rec have got to come first.
“The council has done the right thing by sending them this letter and taking action.
“And it’s critical that we keep them informed and discuss with them what to do to tackle and solve this deep-seated problem in future,” insisted the veteran Lib Dem councillor.
In their letter to local residents, Harborough council chief executive Norman Proudfoot and Harborough police chief Insp Siobhan Gorman say: “As a last resort, should it be necessary, costings have been obtained to fence off the park to allow us to close the site.
“We stress this would be an absolute last resort which we are keen to avoid.”
They add: “We appreciate the last week or so has been really difficult for some residents living near to Little Bowden Recreation Ground, due to the numbers and behaviours of some of the visitors to the park, and we are concerned about how this has impacted on you.
“Whilst the vast majority of people use our parks responsibly, unfortunately there was a rise in anti-social behaviour, littering and evidence of drug taking on some of our sites.
“This was partly due to the recent warm weather, combined with an easing of Covid-19 restrictions and public holidays.
Across the whole of the Harborough district we have noticed a significant increase in the number of people visiting our public open spaces.
“We appreciate that people are keen to get outdoors and we want our parks and open spaces to remain clean and safe for everyone to enjoy,” say the council and police.
“However, Little Bowden Rec has been particularly affected and had very large numbers of people with resulting issues, such as those mentioned above.”
The local authority and police say:
- They have stepped up police patrols
- Strengthened messages to the public and via local media urging people to behave responsibly
- Police have the power to confiscate alcohol from anyone who may be causing anti-social behaviour under the Public Spaces Protection Order and can confiscate from under-18s. Young people under the influence of alcohol are taken home
- Police will be conducting test purchase operations to check alcohol sales to under-18s at some of the premises selling alcohol in the local area
- A request has been made for the youth-IMPACT team, which specialises in dealing with anti-social behaviour, to attend the park on Fridays/Saturdays to engage young people; advise and educate them about risky behaviours
- There have been daily patrols of the park by Environmental Crime Officers. The council’s team of Covid Marshalls have been reprioritised to patrol parks; talking to members of the public, including groups, to encourage social distancing and litter removal; escalating any crime and anti-social behaviour to the police for response
- The council has also installed extra bins at Little Bowden Rec which are emptied regularly.
- Public Toilets are being maintained daily to ensure they are clean for all site users. They are being locked at 6pm to reduce anti-social behaviour and health/safety issues later in the evening
- Play areas continue to be inspected once a week to maintain safety.
The council and police are now also considering:
- Permanent CCTV cameras to sweep the whole of Little Bowden park
- Improving communications with residents, possibly via a park users group
- Setting up a meeting with the community to discuss issues, share ideas and explore the best way forward
- Identifying irresponsible users and taking appropriate actions to prevent reoccurrences.
“In the meantime, with Leicestershire Police, we will continue to respond to all concerns and deal with matters proportionally.
“We want to see people enjoying our public spaces.
“But individuals must take personal responsibility for maintaining social distance, behaving responsibly, and ensuring they do not leave litter,” warn the council.
“We apologise for the issues you’ve had to deal with relating to the park and the way some people are using it.
“Hopefully through the actions above and by working closely with you we can resolve this going forwards.”