ST NEOTS skate park could soon be rid of the anti-social behaviour which has plagued it for years thanks to a new multi-agency scheme.

SKATERS in St Neots have formed a new group that aims to claim back the skate park from anti-social gangs.

The skaters have joined forces with St Neots Youth Service, Huntingdonshire Community Safety Partnership and Cambridgeshire police to set up a skate park users group - a scheme which wants to attract more skaters to the facilities on River Road and discourage teenagers from meeting at the skate park, causing problems and wasting police time.

Youth development co-ordinator Darryl McMurray revealed the plans at last Tuesdays' St Neots neighbourhood forum.

He hopes the project will give the venue a new lease of life.

"We're looking for young people to take ownership of the skate park and work in partnership to make it a success in St Neots," he told The Hunts Post. "We want to raise the awareness of the risk-taking behaviour that goes on there and discourage gangs from congregating and stopping other people enjoying themselves."

St Neots police said anti-social behaviour has increased at the skate park over the past few years, particularly during the summer months. Officers estimate that as many as 200 young people at any one time congregate at the site in gangs, which has led to several serious incidents including allegations of sexual assault.

St Neots sector commander Inspector Mark Greenhalgh told The Hunts Post: "I'm very aware that this has become an increasing problem for the local community. However, we must be mindful of the fact that this is a place set for young people and is covered by CCTV and lighting.

"Our aim is to make the park a nice place for families, and we look forward to working in partnership to achieve this."

The new-look park will be launched by a festival in June or July, and Mr McMurray hopes to invite members of the user group to attend the next neighbourhood forum meeting to discuss the project.

Meanwhile, the forum will work on ideas to change how the skate park is seen and used. Initial ideas have included increasing CCTV coverage to discourage troublemakers, an increase in police patrols and increasing activities in the town that would attract teenagers and young adults.

The skate park was the idea of St Neots Rotary Club secretary Rob Murray who was prompted to conduct a survey among young people in the town following a sharp rise in anti-social behaviour in 2001. "Three main things came out of the survey - the young people wanted a skate park, an ice rink and a cinema," he said.

He successfully lobbied for funding and the park was opened in September 2005.

"There has always been a problem with anti-social behaviour," he added. "I used to go down to the park on a Friday and Saturday and have had to leave at around 6.30pm. Cars of youths would suddenly appear and things started getting stressful. At one point they were taking strips of metal off the skate ramps and bouncing on it until they bent it.

"I'm really glad the user group is being set up and the park is being re-launched, and I look forward to seeing what they do with it."

Skater Dave Hughs, of Little Paxton, will be a member of the forum.

He said: "We want to clean up the image of the skate park so that the people who come here to skate aren't tarred with the same brush as those who mess around. If I didn't skate I'd have nothing to do because I'm not working at the moment so I'm passionate about keeping it open."