Councillors clashed as arguments continued over the decision to cut the budget for security at some of Wearside’s most popular parks.
The Echo has previously reported that a £78,000 budget for park security had been scrapped by Sunderland City Council’s cabinet, leaving only Mowbray Park locked at night and fourteen other parks without security.
“To stop locking the city’s parks at night is a false economy as it will hand the council a bill for damage and vandalism - reports of which are already coming in-and stop people enjoying some of the city’s best assets.”Coun Peter Wood
The council has defended itself, saying the decision was taken because of pressures on budgets, but residents and political groups including Wearside’s Conservatives and Liberal Democrat parties have hit out, saying it will leave beauty spots such as Barnes Park, Thompson Park and Roker Park as well as Hetton Lyons and Hylton Road playing fields vulnerable to vandalism and other anti-social behaviour.
At the latest full council meeting at Sunderland Civic Centre, Conservative councillor Peter Wood submitted a 2,200-strong signature petition organised by the True Friends of Barnes Park group calling for security to be re-instated.
Coun Wood, who is leader of the Conservative opposition on the council, said: “To stop locking the city’s parks at night is a false economy as it will hand the council a bill for damage and vandalism - reports of which are already coming in-and stop people enjoying some of the city’s best assets.
“Mowbray Park is still being locked at night but the same should be true of Barnes Park, with £3.6million of investment which needs protection, and Roker Park where £4.5million is being sought from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“The money to lock parks could easily be found by reducing the amount spent on trade union activity which has increased in recent years-despite numerous promises of a reduction-and currently tops £264,000.”
Conservative deputy leader, Coun Michael Dixon, added: “Sunderland’s parks are the jewels of the city; they have been well maintained with assistance and support from various Friends groups and form part of our heritage and history which is now under threat.
“They were bequeathed to the city by our forefathers and city philanthropists and inside there are war memorials, statues, lakes and bowling greens which must be protected for current residents and future generations.
“Locking them at night will ensure that cars cannot enter and make off with valuable assets which is the advice given by the Heritage Lottery Fund that thefts tend to occur when cars can gain access.”
A motion put forward by the Conservative group at the meeting to re-consider the cuts to park security was ammended by the ruling Labour group, blaming the Conservative Government for imposing huge budget cuts on the authority.
It read: “This council believes the city’s parks and cemeteries should be locked at night and resolves to ask Councillor Peter Wood to petition his Government to reverse their promiscuous, unfair and savage cuts to enable this council to fulfil that belief.”