Sunderland City Council has announced that from June 1, 15 parks, gardens and cemeteries in the area will be open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The sites were previously closed at dusk and opened at dawn by security staff working for a private company, paid for by the council.
The move is expected to save almost £80,000 a year for the authority, although CCTV coverage will still be provided in Barnes Park and Mowbray Park will still have its traditional opening and closing times.
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Chiefs say the authority is having to implement cuts of almost £50million from its budget this year, with in excess of £100million set to be slashes by 2020.
But a group calling themselves the True Friends of Barnes Park say they are worried about the effect not having guards closing the gates will have, leaving Barnes Park in particular open to vandalism and youths being able to take drugs and drink alcohol within the grounds.
“We’re really worried that this will see kids drinking and taking drugs in the bushes because no-one will be able to stop them,” said Ann Ledger, a member of the friends group.
“When there are no security guards around they will be doing what they want.
“We know that these parks are going to be wrecked.
“They’ll come in with their trail bikes like they do in Backhouse Park and no-one will be there to escort them off.”
The group have now started a petition calling on the council to get the parks closed each evening.
So far it has gained more than 600 signatures.
Barnes Park underwent a £3.6million revamp which was completed in 2011.
Historic features were restored as well as new adventure play areas created.
Announcing the new arrangement concerning security, Councillor Michael Mordey, portfolio holder for city services at Sunderland City Council, said: “On Wednesday, June 1, the city council begins having 15 parks, gardens and cemeteries open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“These are: Hetton Mini and Lyons parks, Herrington Country Park, Silksworth Park, Barnes Park, Barley Mow Park, Thompson Park, Roker Park, Mere Knowles, Southwick and Sunderland cemeteries, Hetton Lyons and Hylton Road playing fields, King George Park and Washington’s Usworth Park.
“Mowbray Park in the city centre continues with its traditional opening and closing hours and there also continues to be CCTV coverage in Barnes Park.
“The 24 hour openings are expected to generate savings of nearly £80,000 per year.
“There are no council job losses.
“The council is having to make decisions like this because the Government has cut more than £200million from our budgets since 2010.
“The council is cutting its budget by £46million this year, and expects to cut more than £100million in the next four years.
“Every day thousands of people enjoy and respect our city’s parks, anyone with concerns about anti-social behaviour or crime can contact Northumbria Police on 101 or the City Council on 520 5550.”
Dozens of readers took to the Echo’s Facebook page to have their say on the move.
Samantha Carswell wrote: “It is the best play park in Sunderland and now it will be ruined! Such a shame.”
Paul Nobby Hodgson said: “Won’t be cost effective having to repair and replace benches and kids play areas.”
And Chris Malkin wrote: “It’s a beautiful park. I take my grandchildren as it’s better than our park in Seaham Red Star Park because we have no gates to lock so we get older children drinking and vandalism.”
Call for decision to be reversed
Wearside Liberal Democrats today said they will be asking the council to reverse their decision to stop gates at city parks being closed at night, arguing that members of the public will be “less safe”. Bailey Baker, Lib Dem campaigner for Barnes, said: “It is shocking that Sunderland Council will stop opening and closing the park gates at dawn and dusk, and are withdrawing Barnes Park’s warden too. “Many residents living near the park are worried about an increase in anti-social behaviour when gates are left open all night, and students at Bede College tell me this move will make them feel less safe in the park. “That’s why I’m urging ruling councillors to think again. This change will save the council a small amount of money, but could have a huge impact on the community in Barnes.” Sunderland’s Lib Dem councillor Niall Hodson added: “People travel from all over Sunderland come to enjoy Barnes Park, and many are concerned about what could happen during the day without any wardens, and when it is left open all night. “I will be raising this issue at the Civic Centre to see what can be done to review this decision.” Resident Michael Dono, who lives in High Barnes, said: “I can understand the budget is under stain, but they could have just reduced the hours of the wardens instead of getting rid of them completely. “When I first heard about the gates being left open 24 hours a day, I liked the idea, but if the park is not being policed then it’s potentially not safe to go in there in the later hours.”