ALTERATIONS to the layout of a Newcastle car park failed to tackle antisocial driving and related problems in the area over the Bank Holiday weekend. Despite tens of thousands of pounds being spent on changes to Donard car park’s layout, the site was the venue for a car meet on Saturday night – which has been described as “the worst yet” to occur in the town.
Hundreds of vehicles descended on the town, with those living in the vicinity, as well as several miles away from the car park, “tortured” by the sound of vehicles backfiring, with residents, not for the first time, fearing it was gunfire. Police attended and issued a number of fines – including those in relation to causing “alarm, distress and annoyance”.
A local councillor said she received “a flood of complaints” as a result of the incident, which was advertised on social media, with participants, who came from across the country, encouraged to ‘pack out Newcastle again’.
Laura Devlin said residents were “tortured” as a result of the event, but has accepted the site cannot be closed at night due to residential access. The SDLP representative said other potential solutions to tackling the problem now need pursued, and added that despite the car park’s reconfiguration, “the issue seems to have worsened”.
The reconfiguration work included the installation of higher road ramps at the entrance and exit, plus extended ramps to curb speed within the body of the car park. Noting that events such as this, in built up areas, have detrimental effects on those who live in the area, Councillor Devlin said that, in this instance, it is impacting on people’s health and wellbeing. “Saturday night saw a further ‘car meet’ in Donard Park. Local residents were tortured with the general noise, cars backfiring and the town packed. “The noise was something else. The cars backfiring honestly sounded like gun shots on repeat, which was extremely frightening. I had elderly residents contact me, I had families living up in Tullybrannigan unable to get children to sleep,” she said.
Mrs Devlin, who has been in contact with the PSNI as a result of the event and the problems caused, said that although she had no forewarning of the ‘meet’ she subsequently saw a post on Facebook encouraging drivers to attend. ‘Newcastle Cruise round 2 at 19:30, invite your mates and make it a good one. Let’s pack out Newcastle again’, it read.
Acknowledging the longstanding, and well documented, problem the local councillor continued: “I wasn’t alerted to this car meet in advance but have linked in with police in the aftermath. “We have had many meetings in council in the hope of mitigating against this antisocial behaviour and council spent significant monies reconfiguring the car park, but the issue seems to have worsened with even more flocking from all over Northern Ireland.”
Stating that she intends to hold a meeting with all stakeholders, Cllr Devlin concluded: “At this point I do not know what the solution is, as council cannot close the car park as it leads onto a private road, but I know that this situation cannot continue for local residents, it just can’t. “It is affecting people’s sleep but also their mental health and general wellbeing.” Police have also acknowledged that events, such as Saturday’s, have “a negative impact” and have reiterated that they “take such incidents very seriously.” Yesterday, Mournes Neighbourhood Sergeant Kenny Gracey told the Mourne Observer: “Police in Newcastle are aware of reports of antisocial driving in the Donard Park area of Newcastle in recent days. “We were made aware of reports that cars were revving loudly and drivers were sounding their horns in the area, causing a disturbance to local residents. Officers from the Mourne Neighbourhood and District Support teams responded and spoke to a number of the drivers and issued a number of notices in relation to causing alarm, distress and annoyance and issued a number of fixed penalty notices.” He continued: “We want to assure local residents and business owners that we take such incidents very seriously. “Those involved in this type of activity need to show consideration for local residents and think seriously about the consequences of their actions. There are repercussions of antisocial driving including warning notices being issued, fixed penalty notices, cars being seized and court appearances. “We are aware of the negative impact that this type of activity can have on the local community and would appeal to anyone affected to report antisocial activity immediately to ensure a prompt response.”
Sgt Gracey also confirmed that patrols will continue, when possible, in the area “to deter further activity of this nature, as the safety of road users and local residents is paramount.” He concluded: “Officers would continue to encourage anyone with information that could lead to the detection and prosecution of offenders to contact them on the non-emergency number 101.”