PARK rangers have helped save Aldershot’s Municipal Gardens from the clutches of drunks and drug takers.
Since last June the Rushmoor Council rangers have been inspecting problem areas and cleaning them up in an attempt to reduce environmental difficulties and antisocial behaviour.
This time last year Municipal Gardens, which has entrances off Grosvenor Road and Queen’s Road, was proclaimed one of the worst areas in Aldershot for antisocial behaviour.
Drunks and drug addicts, some as young as 15, were regularly gathering in the park throughout the day and night, hurling abuse at passers-by and littering the ground with bottles, needles and condoms.
Couples at the nearby register office also had to put up with yobs gatecrashing their wedding pictures and ruining their special day.
But this week councillors were told the rangers have helped clear up the area and the problem has improved dramatically.
At Monday’s leisure and promotion committee meeting Brian Stephens, Rushmoor’s parks and horticultural officer, said: “Our parks are very safe now.
“For example, we used to have problems with drugs and drunks at Municipal Gardens in Aldershot and this is now down to a minimum.
“We can target these hotspots 365 days a year and introduce by-laws to help maintain them.”
Last year Kevin Wheatland, licensee of The Unicorn pub in Grosvenor Road, said residents had had enough of bad behaviour in Municipal Gardens.
Along with ward councillors David Clifford, Frances Williams and Eddie Poole, Mr Wheatland and other local residents formed the Friends of Municipal Gardens (FoMG) last year to take care of the park and restore it to a decent public area.
The first meeting for the group is next week, after a massive clean-up operation was launched by the council and councillors to prepare the park for the work that the FoMG would be undertaking.
Cllr Clifford explained: “The difficulty we had was that we had to sort out the problems in the park first as we didn’t want to send them into a war zone.
“The first stage was to decontaminate the park — it was a preposterous situation really, but we feel comfortable enough now for the FoMG to start maintaining the Gardens.
“We won’t put up with anti-social behaviour in our parks and strict by-laws have been introduced to help stop it.
“Law-abiding people have nothing to fear. It is those who make life a misery for residents who do.”
The park rangers have been helping the councillors to clear the park of the rubbish and drug paraphernalia and Cllr Clifford described them as invaluable to the operation.
“The rangers have been brilliant, really good — they are a significant factor in resolving a lot of the difficulties with people in the park.
“They are helping us to restore a sense of community to the town.”
Mr Wheatland agreed, adding: “They’ve been working hard to get the park cleaned — the problems we had have eased up a hell of a lot.
“The rangers have taken tons of rubbish out of there — it was disgusting.”
Aldershot police have also played a role in helping to rid the area of antisocial behaviour and the regular intimidation passers-by were receiving.
Insp Sharon Petherbridge said: “There has been a big improvement with the problems people were experiencing at Municipal Gardens.
“We have been working in partnership with Rushmoor Borough Council and are in direct contact with the park rangers to target this area.
“I hope this success continues into the summer when the evenings are lighter and warmer and more people are likely to be in the parks.
“Aldershot has some lovely parks and families should be able to enjoy them, especially one like Municipal Gardens which has facilities for children, without being exposed to the drunks there.
“It is one of our hotspots and, should problems arise, the beat officers will be there to take action.”
The first meeting of the FoMG will take place at the Princes Hall at 6.30pm on Wednesday March 12, and all local residents are welcome to attend.