Ashford's Memorial Gardens have been branded a dumping ground – as the town prepares to stage its remembrance commemorations.
Leaders of the town's Royal British Legion say litter louts are disrespecting the picturesque green spot, which is dedicated to the war dead.
Dozens of plastic bottles and discarded food wrappers have been spotted in the gardens – with residents claiming more rubbish has appeared since the nearby Ashford College opened in September.
Retired Major Roy Bingham, chairman of Ashford’s Royal British Legion branch, says the state of the area is “disappointing”.
“People of all ages sit there during their lunchtimes and evenings and drop litter,” he said.
“I think it is most disrespectful that people can’t be bothered to put their rubbish in the bins or take it home with them.
“I feel offended that people feel they can treat the gardens as a dumping ground and especially so around the war memorial.”
The town’s remembrance service will be held in the gardens at 11am tomorrow, with hundreds of people expected to attend.
Mr Bingham added: “The gardeners have been working extremely hard to get the whole of the gardens up to pristine condition and I think the rubbish being strewn everywhere is very disappointing.
“The litter isn’t just around the cross, you can see it across the whole of the gardens.
“Sadly, litter is a fact of life now but people can rest assured it will be sorted for the Remembrance Sunday service.
“There will be a major sweep up early on Sunday morning before the service.”
Cllr Graham Galpin (Con), Ashford Borough Council portfolio holder for the town centre, says he is looking into the issue, which was raised at a meeting of the Central Ashford Community Forum.
Residents say they have seen an increase in litter since the college opened, particularly after lunchtimes.
“I am just as frustrated about it as anyone else is,” Cllr Galpin said.
“I want to see people enjoying the pleasant environment, and I don’t want to see anyone spoiling that.
“I shall be there on Sunday for the service.
“I am passionate about the Memorial Gardens.”
Cllr Galpin says council officers can issue a £75 fine to people caught littering.
He added: “We can’t stand behind everyone in the park and wait for them to drop something but we have our litter enforcement team, which will fine people.
“I have told officers about the issue and they are going to increase the litter picks and the availability of bins in the gardens.
“I have also spoken to the college and it is going to ask students not to litter.”
Ashford college spokesman Philip Orrell says they are working with ABC to tackle the litter problem.
The £26 million development in Elwick Road opened in September, and can cater for 1,000 students.
Mr Orrell said: “As one of many educational institutions in the area whose students use the Memorial Gardens, we are working closely with Ashford Borough Council on this and reminding our students that dropping litter is completely unacceptable and blights a popular community space.
“If they are using the gardens, they can dispose of any litter in the Memorial Garden bins as well as the bins provided nearby in the college grounds.
“Our open curriculum and foundation studies students undertake litter-picking as part of their course environmental units and we intend to get them to focus on the gardens, particularly in the lead-up to the Remembrance Day service.”
The Memorial Gardens, off Church Road, were gifted to the town in two parts.
In 1924, the area close to the Gateway Plus building where the memorial stands was given to the town to commemorate soldiers who had fallen in the First World War.
Two years later, the remainder of the gardens was given to the town by the same group of philanthropists.
In 2005, the memorial was totally refurbished, with all stonework replaced or refixed at a cost of £10,000.
The deeds to the gardens state there should be no large gatherings or meetings in the area, and that no buildings should be erected on the site.
Ashford will remember those who lost their lives fighting for their country tomorrow.
The annual service will be held in the Memorial Gardens off Church Road at 11am.
People attending are asked to arrive 10 minutes before the service begins.
Maroons will be fired from North Park at 11am to mark the beginning of the two-minute silence, before being fired again at 11.02am to signify the end.
There will be restricted access to Memorial Gardens from Church Road but visitors will be able to access the park via the Vicarage Lane or Station Road entrances.
Free parking will be offered in the Vicarage Lane or Edinburgh Road car parks.
Road closures will be in place as the remembrance parade will begin at Rowcroft Barracks in Chart Road before ending at the Memorial Gardens.
Mr Bingham said: “The Royal British Legion has been working very closely with the council to ensure the Service of Remembrance is a success and mirrors as much as possible the Remembrance Service held in London at the Cenotaph.”
Maroons will also be fired at 11am and 11.02am on Saturday from North Park to mark Armistice Day.