New bid to lock Bangor’s problem playgrounds

By Iain Gray

COUNCILLORS are to launch another bid to tackle two problem playgrounds in Bangor.
A play park in the Bloomfield housing estate and a combined playground and MUGA pitch in Clandeboye have been causing serious problems for locals since Ards and North Down Council staff started leaving them open all night.
They’d previously been locked overnight, as had five other facilities in North Down, but the council changed its policy to leave all seven open 24 hours a day to bring them in line with the way playgrounds in Ards are managed.
People in Bloomfield and Clandeboye have complained that they’re now hubs for underage drinkers, have become noisy hangout spots, and are regularly hit by dog fouling – none of which were issues when they were locked overnight.
But council officials have repeatedly denied there’s a problem, insisting in official reports that ‘there have been no adverse issues’ as a result of leaving the Bangor playgrounds open all night.
Now a cross-party group of six councillors are again trying to get the facilities locked up tight.
The issue was last discussed by the council four months ago, when the local authority decided to ‘express concern’ about anti-social behaviour at the playgrounds, but not actually do anything to change the policy of leaving them open 24 hours a day.
The six politicians now want that decision overturned, instead stating that the council should start locking the Bloomfield and Clandeboye playgrounds again for a trial period of six months.
The councillors also want officials to consult with the public at all seven playgrounds that were subject to the policy change, asking locals whether they want the facilities locked at night again.
The issue was due to be brought before the council at a meeting due to get underway shortly after the Spectator went to press yesterday evening.
At the time of going to press, however, it wasn’t clear whether it would be debated last night or placed on the agenda of a committee during March.
Sources said the problems encountered at the two playgrounds have continued throughout winter, with the noise so regular and so disturbing that some people have even moved house.
Residents frequently have to head out first thing in the morning to clean the previous night’s dog fouling, broken bottles and litter off the playgrounds, attempting to make them safe for local kids to use.
It’s understood some council officials think that the best way to tackle dog fouling and littering is to fine the people responsible, while keeping the policy of leaving the playgrounds open 24 hours a day.
But the only way to hit culprits with fines is for council wardens to catch them in the act, something that isn’t always possible or even plausible.
That’s left councillors and residents convinced that changing back to the old regime of locking the facilities overnight is the only answer.
But they’ve had an uphill struggle convincing officials of that, as late last year the people responsible for the policy change were still insisting that it had nothing to do with the problems.
Official reports insisted that the persistent dog fouling at Clandeboye’s MUGA pitch isn’t the result of the council failing to lock the facility, but instead ‘the selfish actions of a selfish dog owner breaking the law’.
And they dismissed the suggestion of vandalism in playgrounds, stating that ‘occasions of littering and damage’ are in fact ‘mainly due to general wear and tear’.