By Andrew Woodger
Some of the Friends of Holywells Park, including Melvin Millard (far left)
A 2000 signature petition is being handed in by people worried about the future of public parks in Ipswich.
The Friends of Holywells Park is one of several groups concerned about Ipswich Borough Council's proposals to make cuts of £600,000 over three years.
A consultation is looking at cutting the number of wardens and the times that gates are locked and unlocked.
"Volunteers can't take over that job - you need professionals," said Melvin Millard, Friends of Holywells Park.
Ipswich Borough Council employs the equivalent of 30 full-time people in its Park Patrol team. They act as security for the town's gated parks, including Holywells, Christchurch and Alexandra.
Friends of Holywells Park (FOHP) wants the status quo retained regarding opening times and improved security.
"The initial concern was the threat of leaving the parks open 24 hours, but the council has retracted that desire," said Melvin.
"But there is still a concern about the safe closing and opening of the parks.
"If the parks aren't closed in an orderly way people may be trapped in, gates left open and security in the hours of darkness will be compromised.
The playground at Holywells Park, east Ipswich
"In the few years that we've had the playground in Holywells, we've had quite a lot of damage done to that area whilst the park is closed at night.
"My fear is that will be further damaged if the parks aren't policed properly.
"What we've got are uniformed individuals who are trained in law and order and safety.
"In the morning, when they open up, they will look at at the playground and make sure there is no broken glass, drug-users' paraphernalia and so forth.
Keys for dog walkers?
"One point was that dog-walkers could be given keys to unlock the parks. What if they only unlocked some of the gates, so that people couldn't get in and out.
"What would happen if something untoward happened in the park and a child discovered that?
"A few years ago there was a suicide in Holywells and Parks Patrol spotted that and didn't open the park up that day.
"So it kept a possible crime scene secure and prevented members of the public coming across something they may not wish to see."
Tom McCarthy, FOHP member, said: "It's easy enough to say a volunteering group could deal with this, but no they couldn't.
"These people [Park Patrol] are employees of the council, they are insured under the council's insurance and it is a post that needs to be filled by a council employee.
"These boys and girls aren't on top whack - the money that they're going to save is going to be negligible. But the service they provide can't be priced because it's invaluable."
Thomas Gainsborough's painting of Holywells Park, c.1748-50
Scarecrows and bugs
FOHP says it supports the work of the park rangers and gardeners in the form of providing plants, scarecrow days, wildlife conservation talks and bug hunts for children in the mixed formal grounds, formal gardens, mature woodlands and meadows.
"The council has invested huge amounts of council taxpayers' money in the parks over the past few years," said Marvin.
"I don't want to see that investment squandered by cost-cutting without thinking about it properly.
"I would say there's an awful lot of bureaucracy in local government and they could be looking at cuts higher up the food chain, as it were."
Ipswich Borough Council has confirmed that the idea of 24 hour opening has been dropped.
However, the consultation will still be looking at how many Park Patrol wardens will be kept and what options are available for opening and closing the gated parks.
The consultation period ends on 17 September 2010. Read the following feature about the launch of the review: