Decision to leave Sunderland parks open 24/7 sparks vandalism fears

Lib Dem campaigner Bailey Barker at the entrance to Barnes Park in Sunderland.
Lib Dem campaigner Bailey Barker at the entrance to Barnes Park in Sunderland.

Campaigners say they are concerned that a historic Sunderland park will now become a target for vandals after council chiefs said it will no longer have its gates locked at night.

Residents and students at nearby Bede College have said they are worried about an increase in anti-social behaviour and vandalism in Barnes Park, after Sunderland Council axed its park warden service and decided to stop locking park and cemetery gates overnight.

Other parks and cemeteries across Sunderland are also set to be affected.

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.

The mobile park warden service for other parks in the city has also been axed.

Wearside Liberal Democrats today said they will be asking the council to reverse their decision.

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'm annoyed that they're axing the wardens at Barnes Park - back when it was refurbished it was a great park, but I feel since then it's had a lack of attention despite so much being put into the refurbishment in the first place.

"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.”

Announcing the new arrangement, 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.”