Antisocial behaviour at the Level is now worse than it was before its multimillion pound revamp as its flagship cafe remains empty.
Members of the Level Communities Forum say the area around the cafe, which has been closed for months because of a mystery leak, has become a free-for-all for drug dealers
They hope that Sussex Police will open a temporary police station in one of the community rooms by the fountains, as they have been asked to clear it for that use.
The council and police say they are looking into improving lighting at the south end and there are extra patrols at night in the area.
But the forum is calling on Brighton and Hove City Council to get the cafe back up and running as a community venture and improve the park so it can be enjoyed by everyone again.
Chair Maureen Winder said: “The cafe leaseholder just went and then after that everything seemed to go downhill quite rapidly.
“The graffiti started – some just leads to more, and it’s never-ending. We can’t understand where this leak is coming from.
“The damage to some of the toilets has been so severe they have had to close.
“The gardener is doing his absolute best to get it looking reasonable but he can only do so much.
“I think one of the big problems in our opinion is that the council has always looked for a commercial leasehold rather than a community based one.
“Then they have left all the responsibility to these commercial tenants who can’t keep up with it.
“The payments they have to make for the lease are so high because of the problems with the building.
“We need a community based cafe because that makes The Level a safer community based place.”
Deputy chair of the forum Roz Reyburn said: “They got the heritage lottery funding and spent a fortune on it and now it’s in a worse state than I have ever seen it.
“It was a complete waste of money and it’s an insult to all the creativity that went into it.”
The forum says it has been talking to the Open Market about using the cafe, and Brighton University about potential art projects in the park.
The whole park underwent a major restoration from 2012 to 2013, using a £2.2 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
The cafe itself cost £1 million, according to construction company Thomas Sinden, which was contracted by the council to build it.
In 2020, despite being under warranty, the council had to shell out £77,000 to replace the roof, which had sprung a leak.
Although antisocial behaviour has never entirely disappeared from the park, in past years Sussex Police and the council visibly worked together to tackle it.
But as the city recovers from the pandemic, the communities forum fears The Level is being left behind.
Mrs Winder said: “The danger is in painting a negative picture is it makes it seem aa though nothing can ever change.
“We have been involved in it for such a long time and everyone wants it to improve that the question is how do we turn that corner.
“It could become a wonderful centre for culture in the city.
“We have got lots of positive ideas and with a little bit of help and support we could do something for the wider community.
“It wasn’t as sad years ago as neglected as it is now. You can’t just have funding and then allow it to run down.”
A council spokesperson said: “We have given the police access to the community rooms at The Level, and they are exploring how these could be used to help with addressing antisocial behaviour.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to tackle anti-social behaviour, the council has recently employed a drugs worker to help tackle drug abuse and the causes of addiction across the city. We take this seriously and know more work needs to be done.
“The council commissions a local youth service called Brighton Streets. They are regularly visiting and spending time at The Level, engaging with young people.
“We have previously fixed several leaks at the Level Café. But there remains an ongoing problem with water getting in underneath.
“We are continuing to try and work out what the problem is with the water levels, and are monitoring water levels and water usage at the site to try and work out the root cause.
“We are committed to resolving these issues as soon as we can so that the café can eventually reopen.
“We’re setting up a programme of work to address the problem of graffiti. Unfortunately it is an ongoing issue. We have previously painted over graffiti at the café but it has reappeared.”
Chief Inspector Andy Saville said: “The Level is a cornerstone of central Brighton and making sure people feel safe to enjoy it is a key focus for us as a division.
“Sussex Police has recently launched the online StreetSafe toolkit, which allows members of the public to anonymously highlight areas where they feel unsafe or uneasy.
“Information from StreetSafe has already underpinned extra night-time patrols around The Level and we are working with Brighton and Hove City Council to bring enhanced lighting to the south end of the park and to look at tackling instances of graffiti in the area.
“PCSOs also carry out daily patrols around The Level as part of their routine community engagement work.
“Working in partnership, the council has allowed us to use one of their community rooms as an engagement hub at The Level, providing a visible, reassuring police presence and a clear point of contact for anyone with concerns or for people seeking information.
“This project is at an early stage, with the first step being to clear the room in preparation for use.
“Tackling anti-social behaviour and associated issues is a team effort between Sussex Police and our partners in the community, which also looks at addressing the underlying causes of criminal and anti-social behaviour.
“Public reporting is central to us understanding the needs of our communities, so it’s vital that any concerns are reported to us either online via the Sussex Police website, by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency.
“There is also the online StreetSafe toolkit, more information about which can be found here: https://www.sussex.police.uk/notices/street-safe/street-safe/”