Council ‘must take stand’ against vandals – McKee

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DECISIVE action must be taken to stem the tide of vandalism in the borough, local councillors have urged.

As reported in the Times, a £125,000 children’s play area at Beachlands in Carnlough had to be closed after protective safety surfacing was ripped up and two pieces of play equipment were damaged, leaving Larne Council with a repair bill of £3,000.

The incident is the latest in a series of vandalism in the village. Last year alone, £22,170 of ratepayers’ money was spent repairing damage to council-owned grounds and equipment in Carnlough – more than three times the amount spent in Larne or Glenarm. The total damage throughout the borough amounted to a whopping £65,000.

At the latest monthly meeting of Larne Borough Council, elected representatives expressed serious concerns about the level of vandalism throughout the borough and the cost to ratepayers.

Cllr Gregg McKeen asked: “When is this going to stop? At some stage we either need to bring this under control or say enough is enough, stop repairing the damage and withdraw the affected play parks.

“That is the last thing we want to do, as it will mean the vandals have won. But it is money that could be spent on other things. We need to come up with a solution to stop throwing good money after bad.”

Alderman Jack McKee pointed out that damaged play equipment in Antiville had not been repaired, and asked how the council could fix equipment in one area but not another.

“We have a problem with vandalism in all our play parks and the council needs to take a stand,” he said.

The veteran councillor also felt that signs should be erected in parks in a bid to keep out young people over the age of 12.

“When you approach these youngsters and tell them that they should not be in the park, they defy you and make you feel very small. Signs need to be put up as a matter of urgency,” he said.

Ald Winston Fulton asked where the money to carry out repairs was coming from, and chief executive Geraldine McGahey informed him it was taken out of the council budget. “We are not insured for incidents of vandalism in our parks; very few councils are,” she said.

Ald Fulton added: “This is a lot of money coming out of our budget, can we really afford it?”

Director of Development Linda McCullough said residents and the council had reported the latest incident of vandalism in Carnlough to police and added: “It is believed that some of the youths who participated in these actions were from the village.

“The Community Association has expressed its exasperation and local people are up in arms.”

Mrs McCullough felt the soultion to the vandalism problem lay in “empowering communities to stand up and be more vigilant”.

Coast Road Cllr Maureen Morrow told members that local primary school pupils had recently completed a mosaic, which was due to be placed in the park at Beachlands. However, Mrs McCullough confirmed this would now have to be “put on the long-finger”.

Cllr James McKeown added: “I strongly condemn the mindless individuals responsible for this recent incident in Carnlough. But I believe this has been a turning point, as it has galvanised a lot of people and names have now been passed on to the PSNI.”

Councillor McKeen proposed that the council ask the newly formed Policing Community Safety Partnership (PCSP) to look into the issue of vandalism in the borough. This was seconded by Ald Roy Beggs and agreed by members.