Central Park is an award-winning attraction in Peterborough, but drugs, damage and funding cuts have prompted fears that it could become a “no go area.”
Cambridgeshire police have highlighted a number of successes in recent weeks as it attempts to ‘reclaim’ the Green Flag-winning park through patrols and stop-and-search. But, even if the force is winning some battles it is still seen to be losing the war with individuals who use the park regularly painting a picture of excessive drug-dealing and unruly behaviour played out in an arena where authority is lacking.
The police have been eager to highlight the positive work it has undertaken in the area. It said that at the end of last year, through stop-and-search, it made several arrests around Central Park with one person found in possession of over 70 wraps of Class A drugs.
And earlier this month, stop-and-search was used 38 times over four days, resulting in two arrests, while in December three men were arrested after drugs worth hundreds of thousands of pounds were found at an address in Park Road.
Yet Tony Forster, chair of Friends of Central Park, does not believe the police action will have a significant effect, even if he does welcome it.
This is due to a £100,000 cut in Peterborough City Council’s budget last year which means that Amey - which operates the park on the council’s behalf - no longer has a permanent presence there between October and the end of March.
He said: “There are no Amey staff and that’s the cause of the problem. We know there’s cannabis selling going on.
“And there are kids and young people gathering on the bowling green to play football and leaving a big, bald patch. So I do not think it’s going to be used as a bowling green in the summer.
“It’s still a lovely park and it’s a safe place to be - I’m in there every day. But it’s deteriorating because there are no staff there. We’ve raised these issues a number of times but we know the police are ridiculously short-staffed.”
Central Park has won a prestigious Green Flag award for the past 13 years, but Stewart Jackson, MP for Peterborough, is warning that people might starting avoiding it.
He said: “I think there’s a very real worry that Amey is not fulfilling its commitment to what is an award-winning park and a great asset to the city. I believe that they need to think again about staffing levels and coordinate with the police and Friends of the Park.
“The drug dealers are known to the police but are blatant in their nefarious activities which has gone on too long and is completely unacceptable. There’s a danger that Central Park becomes a no-go area for Peterborough and as a local resident I’m not going to let that happen.”
Chief Inspector Robin Sissons said police were targeting offenders and educating potential victims.
He added: “We are aware of the issues in and around Central Park and are pro-actively working with local residents and a range of partners to improve these issues and tackle crime in the area.
“We are working with the local schools and colleges to warn and educate students and we are also working alongside the voluntary groups such as Friends of the Park to gain further community intelligence.”
A spokesman for Peterborough City Council said it will be fencing off the area around the bowling green to prevent access and further damage.
He added: “An attendant visits Central Park every day, but these roles have never been in place to police the park or act as a park warden. They are there for maintenance purposes during daytime hours. Any issues in the park are fed through to the city council’s anti-social behaviour team and the police. We hold multi-agency meetings with the Friends of Central Park group and the local ward councillors to work together to try and help reduce incidents of anti-social behaviour.”
Labour Park Ward Councillors Richard Ferris and John Shearman said Central Park is a “safe and attractive place to enjoy” despite noting the damage to the bowling green and the “widespread concerns” about drugs. But they added: “With the budget cuts that have been made, staffing levels in the park have been greatly reduced over the autumn and winter.
“We believe this to have been a short-sighted decision as it takes away the reassurance that the public get from a visible, official presence.
“The police have stepped up their activities in and around the park and for this we are very grateful, especially given the huge resource pressures they are under.
“While the police action has sent out a clear message, there is a wider problem that we must face, and this concerns the lack of youth provision within Park Ward. More needs to be done to offer young people a place where they can meet up, in safety, and where they can engage in constructive activities of their choosing.”
Conservative Park Ward Councillor John Peach said: “The latest results from the police show a significant decline in anti-social behaviour in and around Park Road, All Saints Road, Park Crescent and Central Park.
“I will certainly be keeping an eye on the area and asking the police to do the same. I have also been talking to the heads of Thomas Deacon Academy and the Regional College who have been very helpful to me and the police.”
Cllr Peach said if local residents have concerns about drug taking or see it happening then they should contact the local police team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or ringing Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
He added: “All the police need are times, locations and any descriptions that you may have. This will then allow police officers to focus their patrols and gives them grounds for searching people matching the descriptions given. Together we can make a difference.”