POLICE have called for the closure of New Milton’s popular skate park at night amid reports a “minority” of youngsters have flouted Covid-19 restrictions by gathering in large numbers.
Members of the town council’s amenities committee discussed fencing off the facility on the recreation ground, off Whitefield Road, after local safer neighbourhood Sgt Kat Smith reported a group of 60-70 youngsters were spotted there last weekend.
This breach of the government’s Rule of Six legislation to reduce the spread of the virus led to Sgt Smith’s suggestion the skate park should be closed during the hours of darkness.
Some committee members felt the night-time closure would have to be enacted, while others argued the skate park’s users needed to be educated instead.
Sgt Smith said current legislation made it difficult for officers to enforce the matter as they could not issue fines to people aged under 18 who failed to comply with the regulations.
Monday’s virtual amenities meeting heard chairman Cllr Geoffrey Blunden had visited the site with Cllr Steve Clarke and spoken to users as well as parents.
The councillors’ conclusion was that the “vast majority” of youngsters were behaving responsibly.
Cllr Blunden added Covid marshals were expected to patrol the recreation ground as well as areas including Station Road, but were not expected to be introduced until around mid-November.
“Closing the skate park from dusk till dawn is a reasonable request, but I have to point out that operationally it would be difficult and costly,” he said.
“We would need to erect [temporary] fencing and a gate which would have to be locked at the end of the day and unlocked at the start.”
Town clerk Graham Flexman told the meeting that caging the facility and manning its closure was expected to cost around £1,500 per month.
Although describing a potential closure of the facility as a “tragedy”, Cllr Steve Davies felt there was little choice but to follow the police advice as the law was being broken.
His view was supported by fellow ward councillor Valya Schooling and Cllr Robert Murrow.
Referring to the costs of the fencing and staffing, Cllr Clarke argued there should be further discussions with the skate park’s users to try to avoid it.
Cllr Madeleine Craze asked whether the council’s youth services manager, Silma Ramsaywack, was involved in talks with the youngsters as she had a good relationship with them.
Unconvinced a night-time closure was the solution, Cllr Dean Samber warned this “would only move the problem somewhere else in the town”.
Cllr Alan O’Sullivan argued the situation was not helped by some of the government’s regulations which he felt could be very confusing for youngsters.
“When they’re in school their whole year group is together, but when they’re out of school they have to be in a group of six,” he said.
Cllr David Hawkins argued the skate park’s users were old enough to know their responsibilities. He said: “We as adults try to follow the regulations, and the youngsters using the skate park should also follow them.
“We’ve got to be a bit sterner than that, I’m afraid.”
It was ultimately agreed that the council would continue to engage with youngsters and review the situation with police after three weeks before deciding on any further action.
Cllr Blunden concluded: “Our youth officer and town councillors will try to educate the children and youth of the ramifications of not abiding by the rules.
“We will make it clear that if there is no improvement we will have no alternative but to take further action.”