Three weeks ago a remark that Central Park could become a “no-go” area sparked a big debate in Peterborough.
Supporters of the green space bemoaned the frequent anti-social behaviour and lack of permanent park staff during the winter, but they were keen to stress that the ‘crown jewel’ remained a safe place for families to enjoy.
Since then many people have been in touch to share their park-life experiences, both good and bad, and now vocal campaigning to deliver a greater presence at the site has paid dividends after Peterborough City Council agreed to pay Amey (the park’s operators) £1,254.35 to fund staff to work there during the Easter Holidays which run from March 22 to April 11.
And the council has now admitted that it may revisit the decision it made nearly a year ago to reduce Amey’s funding by £100,000 which meant that between October and the end of March there would be no permanent members of staff at Central Park, compared to three for the rest of the year.
Councillor Gavin Elsey, cabinet member for digital, waste and street scene, said: “People need to remember it was never the job of Amey staff to police the park, their job is to maintain it.
“However, it’s quite clear having a presence in the park had a positive effect.”
Highlighting that £19 million had to come out of last year’s council budget, Cllr Elsey said he was also hoping to see new enforcement teams - combining council staff and neighbourhood police officers - set up a base at the park.
He added: “If there are less issues that concern the public as a result of having people there it’s something we will clearly champion. We will say it’s not worked and we will look at it again.”
The Peterborough Telegraph ran a poll on its website (see sidebar) to find out if people think Central Park is a safe and enjoyable place to visit.
Responding to the figures, Tony Forster, chair of Friends of Central Park, believes the recent media coverage has made people more fearful about visiting the Green Flag-winning park.
He said: “What people feel does not just depend on their experiences when they visit the park, it also depends on what they read about it.
“People may be put off from visiting the park because they believe it might not be safe, but not put off by bad experiences.”
MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson, who initially suggested that the park could become a no-go area if anti-social behaviour was not tackled, said: “It’s important that we’ve raised the profile of Central Park as an asset that needs protecting. It is a jewel at the heart of the city and the Buttercross Café is a local institution.
“We need better collaborative working between the police and Amey and a forward plan to make sure we reduce low level crime and maintain a pleasant environment in the park.”
One reader who contacted this paper highlighted damage that was going on at the park. She said: “We ladies have played tennis in Central Park for many years and are very saddened to see the decline and care of this beautiful asset of Peterborough.
“The withdrawal of staff based in the park has without doubt impacted not only on the park but on the tennis courts and surrounding amenities. Is reducing park staff really saving money in the long term? Surely prevention is better and more cost effective.”
Central Park readers’ survey:
How often do you visit?
Daily - 17%, Weekly - 26%, Monthly - 13%, Occasionally - 44%.
How safe do you feel?
Very Safe - 20%, Safe - 38%, Concerned - 34%, Very Unsafe - 8%
Have you ever witnessed anti-social behaviour?
Frequently - 16%, Occasionally - 41%, Rarely - 27%, Never - 16%
Is Central Park an ideal place to visit with children?
Always - 29%, Mostly - 34%, Sometimes - 26%, Rarely - 11%
How well is it maintained?
Exceptionally well 11%, Well - 43%, Adequate - 35%, Poor - 11%
Which area would you most like to see more investment if it was available?
Security - 49%, Events - 22%, Gardens and floral displays - 14%, Activities - 15%
The most valued facilities were the Buttercross tea rooms (33%) and play areas (22%)
Total votes - 214