A concerned Harrogate resident has labelled the award-winning Valley Gardens ‘unsafe’ at night and says the authorities need to do more to safeguard this popular park.
Martin Hampton, who has run Magnesia Well Café for ten years says he has already suffered £2,000 - £3,000 worth of damage this summer and enough is enough.
Martin said: “I’m pleading with the authorities to help make the Valley Gardens safe again at night because is it a wonderful place.
“The basic problem is drinking and drugs in the park during school holidays by youngsters.
“It happens each year. The council know it happens. The police know it happens. But no one is doing anything about it.”
Police action in Valley Gardens
Harrogate police have already been on the scene at the café after a series of break-ins and vandalism at the café.
Insp Penny Taylor of Harrogate Police said they were aware of the growing problem and had recorded two burglaries at the cafe in August and one in March.
There had been an arrest at the most recent one but the person had later been released without charge.
Insp Taylor said: “We are aware that there has been an increase in issues reported to us in the Valley Gardens.
“We do take this seriously and want to ensure that this is a safe environment for all those that use the gardens.
“We are currently working with partners to see what the key issues are then look at a plan to tackle the issues.”
A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “Officers are investigating the burglary at the café in Valley Gardens.
“This has included forensic examinations at the scene and a trawl through CCTV in the area in the effort to identify the suspects.
“Police patrols have been stepped up in the area to deter crime and anti-social behaviour while enquiries continue.
“Staff at the café have also received crime prevention advice and support from the local Neighbourhood Policing Team.”
'Youngsters and alcohol to blame'
But Martin says, despite the best efforts of the police, it’s the café that’s left carrying the can.
He said: “They’ve broken into the café twice and attempted to another time. They’ve broken the shutters and smashed glass. They’ve set fire to the bunting and destroyed the flowers.
“I’ve seen what happens from our CCTV footage. It starts with them drinking on the Valley Gardens benches and then there’s dancing and singing. Later the same people come back and have a go at breaking into the café.
“We regularly find empty bottles of vodka and cans the next day. We’ve found signs of drug taking, too.
“You can’t see from the CCTV exactly who they are. You just catch the shadows.”
What are Harrogate Council doing?
Harrogate Borough Council said that it was taking the situation very seriously and had a park ranger doing checks daily in the Valley Gardens.
It had also identified some of the potential troublemakers and were taking steps to prevent future anti-social behaviour.
Coun Mike Chambers, the council’s cabinet member for safer communities said: “Anti-social behaviour is unacceptable. We are committed to tackling this issue and will take action against anyone found responsible.
“A park ranger regularly patrols Valley Gardens and deals with any issues of anti-social behaviour. We also have CCTV cameras in a number of locations within the park providing 24/7 monitoring, which allows us and the police to respond to incidents swiftly.
“The Community Safety Hub has been undertaking an assessment to understand the issues that are affecting the Valley Gardens at present, including incidents that have been reported to the police and ourselves.
“We have identified a number of young people who are at risk of offending or are involved in anti-social behaviour."
Are parents to blame?
The owners of Magnesia Well Café are currently spending their own money repairing the café and making changes to security, including reinforced shutters and better-placed CCTV
But Martin says it’s time the authorities introduced new measures to improve the situation for the café, the Valley Gardens and the thousands of visitors who enjoy it.
In particular, he said the area round the cafe was too dark.
He said: “There’s no lighting near the cafe. Dog walkers don’t come down here. If they did, they might see what was going on and report it earlier.”
He also said that it was up to parents to make sure their youngsters didn’t get into trouble.
He said: “In an ideal world, they would cut down on the sale of alcohol to youngters.
“I don’t know how some of them are able to drink like that late at night in the park and in the early hours of the morning.
“I don’t understand parents letting them do it.”
Anti-social problems in centre of Harrogate
One additional fear is that a Public Spaces Protection Order introduced last year in an attempt to reduce the level of alcohol-related anti-social behaviour in Harrogate town centre may simply be pushing possible offenders into the Valley Gardens instead.
Although the PSPO does not cover the Valley Gardens, the park was designated an Alcohol Restricted Zone more than ten years ago.
This gives the police the power to confiscate alcohol if they believe it is contributing towards anti-social behaviour – but only bottles or cans that have been opened.
Inspector Penny Taylor said the police were always keen not to spread the problem.
She said: “We were successful with Op Yeehaw at the beginning of the year, a multi-agency response to anti-social behaviour and street drinking in the town centre.
“But when we carry out such operations we look at the bigger picture.
“We don’t want to move those on - we want to educate, work with families or carry out enforcement to ensure those coming to our notice are dealt with the right way.
“This is why partnership working is so important and has proved very successful as part of Op Yeehaw.”
How you can help tackle problem
Harrogate Borough Council is asking the public to help them tackle anti-social behaviour in the Valley Gardens by reporting incidents to the police by calling 101, or our customer services team on 01423 500 600 or emailing CustomerServices@harrogate.gov.uk
Harrogate police are urging ayone with information who think they could assist in ongoing investigations into the Magnesia Well Cafe break-ins to contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, (selecting option 2, and ask for Brendon Frith).
Or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 quoting reference number 12170146600.
Is enough being done to make the Valley Gardens safe? Let us know your views at the Harrogate Advertiser Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org