by Angela Cole
Shocked park users and dog walkers were presented with signs telling them their park could be handed over to a local church.
The anonymous notices were posted in South Park in Armstrong Road, Maidstone, recently warning that discussions were taking place between the Maidstone council and the Jubilee Church about the running of the site.
The pleasure gardens, which house tennis courts, a pavilion, and a now disused bowling green, are well used.
The signs, which were removed 24 hours after going up, told visitors that a decision was imminent on handing over management of a section of the park to the church.
However, local ward councillors, who have been involved in discussions with the church and Maidstone council officers, were quick to allay locals' fears.
Cllr Clive English, one of six councillors who met church officials and officers, said the council wanted to preserve public access to the park.
He said: “It is a park for the people of Maidstone. There was a feeling that there may be some leeway around the old pavilion, but the broader proposals weren’t welcomed at that point.”
“I can understand people’s concerns but there are a certain number of limited facilities within the park that may be possible to let under certain circumstances.”
The aim of the council would be to preserve the public access.”
He added that local groups had been consulted, including Tovil Parish Council, the Friends of South Park and the North Loose Residents Association.
After consultation with the local groups, further discussions could take place and a period of public consultation would be carried out.
Parks and leisure manager for Maidstone council, Jason Taylor, said: “The proposal is still nothing more than that, and we have spoken to the Friends of South Park and also to the elected councillors to get their feelings on this. No firm decision has yet been made, .” he said.
It is understood the plans could include greater use of the tennis courts and other sports facilities, with a view to running the site on a 25-year lease.
Neil Pattison, church leader, said: "We want to keep full access to the whole of South Park; we want to make sure people still use it."