A PETITION to get artificial lighting put in South Park for the first time has racked up more than 750 signatures in 24 hours.

The campaign was set up by a group of Oxford Brookes University students who say the dark park makes them feel unsafe at night.

OUR VIEW: Do we really need artificial lights in South Park?

Sophie Bates, 21, who is running the campaign with her housemates said: "There needs to be more lights, even if it was just a couple along the pathway – there's a fear that anything could happen when it's dark at night

"People are just scared to walk home alone, its unnerving having a dark area."

Oxford Mail:

The petition on Change.org

The second-year student publishing and media student added: "It's not just girls who feel unsafe. Some of my housemates are men and they feel the same.

"Lighting will make a change and making it open will deter crime for sure."

The park is owned by Oxford City Council, after it was handed over by Oxford Preservation Trust in 1959.

However it is still protected against even small changes and developments by a covenant between the council and the trust.

That means the council could not legally put lighting in the park, even if it wanted to.

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Trust director Debbie Dance explained: "The council would need to make the case to us.

"They have decided to open the park 24-hours a day and it is important to maintain it and keep it safe.

"[However] it is a sensitive and very beautiful park. There is a whole raft of things to talk about, like how does the city council manage the park?

"We don't have any say over how the park is managed. We just want to make sure it continues to be a park and remains beautiful – it's about finding the balance."

She added: “There needs to be a debate about the lighting. And obviously Oxford Brookes University need to be part of the conversation.

Oxford Mail:

Views of the city are 'beautiful' from South Park

“We do sometimes relax the covenant, but is it possible to achieve what everybody wants and maintain a beautiful park?”

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City councillor Tom Hayes said the debate had been going on for years.

He said: "It's a really controversial issue.

"Everybody has an opinion on the park and what it should be.

"The reason why nothing has been done is because there is a protection on the land, because it will cost money and because there is another route which is a few meters out of the way.

“I think it is fantastic that people want to push this on – but there needs to be a proper conversation between everyone.

Students obviously have very legitimate reasons for wanting to sign the petition.

"And, as a ward councillor we are really lucky that we have Brookes students in the area who don’t just see their time here as just one year or two years, but they see themselves as neighbours.

"Residents tell me they feel safe in St Clements and in South Park."

Oxford Mail:

The reasons for signing on the petition to get lights put in South Park

Last month, Oxford Public Spaces Drugs Taskforce cut back the bushes and moved benches in the park to make sight lines more visible.

READ AGAIN: Drug dealing problems tackled in Oxford's South Park

Ian Brooke, Oxford City Council’s head of community services, said the authority was already working hard to make the park safer.

He said: “As a result of concerns raised by residents about drug use and dealing in South Park, the Oxford Public Spaces Drugs Taskforce, which is part-funded by Oxford City Council, has been working hard to tackle the issue – cutting back foliage and canopies to improve sight lines across the park, moving park benches into more visible locations, and carrying out high-visibility police patrols of the area.

"The taskforce is moving onto another part of East Oxford because we’re confident that we’ve made the park a safer place, and we hope many students and neighbours will be reassured by our track record."

With regard to the lighting petition, he went on: "There are two important questions to address here. Does Oxford City Council have the right to install lighting? Oxford Preservation Trust bought South Park in 1932 and gave it to the City of Oxford in 1959. The Trust holds a legal covenant on the land and that restricts the city council from installing lighting, so we just don’t have the automatic right to install lighting. And, if the city council could install lighting, should it?

"A number of local residents have raised concerns over the years, as council tax payers, about money being spent on this project when students can walk an extra minute to the same destination in the darker hours of the day by an existing, well-lit, accessible route. Local residents also raise strong concerns about light pollution and its impact on South Park’s unique designation as a dark sky area and its wildlife and biodiversity.”