Residents rally against closed park

Residents who walk their dogs on Malta Park in Observatory are upset about its closure.

A fence around Malta Park greeted locals wanting to walk their dogs.

Residents, who have been using the park for years, were told they were no longer welcome after sports clubs paying to use the grounds complained about unauthorised sports matches and dog walkers not picking up after their pets.

This news was not well received by locals. They started a WhatsApp group to discuss how to get access to the park again.

Johan Beaurain, who started the group, said residents had used the fields for “decades”.

Ward 57 councillor Paddy Chapple has advised residents to use other facilities, but Mr Beaurain said they weren’t as suitable for residents who had health complaints.

Resident Sue McConnell is dismayed with the decision to keep residents out.

“I’ve relied on the Malta Park fields as a place to let my dog run after a day at work. It’s the closest place that I can get to easily in the rush hour traffic. There are probably about 30 different dogs and owners that I know or recognise at the field in the evenings. We are all locals and need the open space for our dogs.

“I went to the field on Saturday morning and arrived at the same time that another man who was arriving with his
child to play cricket. He was very quick to say something along the lines of, ‘You’re not going to be able to bring your dogs to this field anymore,’” said Ms McConnell.

Mr Chapple said he had supported the closure of the field as it was a sports facility and not a public open space.

“The area is being fenced off to prevent illegal use which has occurred over several weekends. The invasions have been aggressive in nature and have included threats made to the staff.

“I support the fencing. It has become a hostile and aggressive situation and has involved regular call-outs to the Metro police to remove illegal users.

“It is sad that residents feel that the practice of walking their dogs should be paramount over the safety of mainly previously disadvantaged staff,” said Mr Chapple.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, said clubs paid a council-approved tariff to use the fields for their matches. But many times they had encountered illegal play, which accelerated the damage to the fields, as well as dog faeces.

“The clubs have complained about the dog faeces left on the fields which poses a health risk. Considering the current water restrictions and the fact that the field has no alternate water source, the department needed to take certain measures to preserve the existing fields.

“Alternative space is available on the field and on the pathway opposite the River Club. Previously when we had day security, residents could still access fields in a controlled environment. With our limited resources, we had to reduce our security at this facility which then rendered it vulnerable to illegal play again,” said Mr Smith.