COUNCILLORS CRITICISE OFFICIALS AS PLAYGROUNDS STAY OPEN

COUNCIL officials still haven’t started locking trouble-hit Bangor playgrounds overnight, despite being ordered to do so two months ago.

At the end of February, local politicians voted to overrule Ards and North Down Council staff, ordering them to shut the gates on a play park in the Bloomfield estate and a combined playground and MUGA pitch in the Clandeboye area at night.

Yet so far nothing has happened, and the gates of each one are still being left wide open 24 hours a day.

Councillors strongly rebuked their own officials at a meeting last Wednesday night, accusing them of letting down residents whose lives are being blighted by serious anti-social behaviour – a problem that’s likely to only get worse as warm summer nights roll in.

In return, senior council officials claimed that they haven’t got the staff to lock the gates themselves, while private security firms would charge too much.

February’s overnight locking vote came after months of outcry from local residents about trouble at the two sites, which started after council officials took it upon themselves to start leaving them open for 24 hours a day.

Officials repeatedly refused to accept there were any issues with their decision, even though the Clandeboye and Bloomfield facilities became havens for overnight drinkers, and are regularly fouled by dogs and damaged by vandals.

The level of trouble is so bad that some locals have even been forced to move house to get away from the anti-social behaviour.

According to information presented last week, council officials concluded they didn’t have enough staff to lock the two playgrounds for a six-month trial period, so went to approach private security contractors asking how much they’d charge.

Quotes from those contractors were declared to be ‘above [the council’s] tender threshold limit’, so the gates are still open at all times of the day and night.

As an excuse for inaction, that didn’t wash with DUP councillor Jennifer Gilmour, who argued that by now the council should have been locking the playgrounds for several weeks.

“This is really impacting on local residents,” she said. “A few have had to move house; another this week, who has lived in the Clandeboye area for 12 years, has told their landlord they’ll have to move because of the late-night noise and drinking in the play park behind their property.

“This council unanimously made that decision; [officials] need to action it with immediate effect, so that those residents do not have to suffer any further.”

She was backed by politicians from several parties, including Green councillor Barry McKee, who said: “Quite frankly, this council has let residents down.

““We need to act, not just give them more words about indeterminate timelines.”

But council Community and Wellbeing director Graeme Bannister maintained that the problem lay with the wording of what was voted through in February, which specifically called for existing staff to lock the playgrounds overnight.

“We don’t have existing staff who can carry this out,” he said, stating that ‘teams are already deployed’ and rotas would have to be reworked to create six months of split shifts across two locations to carry out what the council voted for.

That would mean taking personnel off assigned duties elsewhere in the borough, he said, meaning staff ‘would not do what they are already doing’.

But that didn’t mollify Mrs Gilmour, who insisted that the work has to be carried out, whether that means creating split shifts or dipping into cash reserves to take on extra temporary employees.

“Whatever the logistics, it has to be done,” she said. “This council has decided it should be done as soon as possible; in my mind, as soon as possible is not two months and more later. Our ratepayers have suffered long enough.”

The council unanimously agreed to use its cash reserves to lock the two playgrounds.