HUNDREDS of people, including a priest, have signed a petition against plans to create a new playground in Darwen, fearing it will attract drug-taking yobs.

Residents have collected almost 200 signatures against the new play area in the centre of a residential area in Earcroft.

People living in Haldane Road and neighbouring streets have signed the petition instigated by Haldane resident Stephanie Brookfield.

They organised the protest after learning that a new playground for children aged between eight to 13 was due to be built on grassland behind their homes.

Ms Brookfield, 48, who lives with her 21-year-old son, Daniel, raised concerns about it becoming a focal point for drunken youths and drug dealers.

She added: “We have had so many problems with drunken youths and drug dealers in the past and it has been dreadful.

“This playground won’t be monitored or fenced, so it will just give these youths somewhere to congregate and a licence to behave badly.”

The campaign is also backed by the local church.

Father John Dugdale, of Sacred Heart and St Edward’s Church, in Blackburn Road, said: “If it were to go ahead it would be very difficult to stop youths gathering and littering the area with bottles, cans and drug paraphernalia.”

The plans for the playground are part of phase two of Blackburn with Darwen Council’s Play Pathfinders project, to improve existing play areas or installing new areas within the borough by April 2010.

Ward councillor Trevor Maxfield, who is also a member of the Play Pathfinder board, said he would not be supporting the plans for the new playground.

He added: “Playgrounds in general are a good idea but they have to be done with the consent of local people. So, if people don’t want it there then it shouldn’t be installed.

“We will just have to find a happy medium as we do need a new playground in the ward.”

The petition will be handed in at the next Play Pathfinder sub-group meeting on September 8, at Blackburn Library.

Darwen parents petitioned the council in July this year to provide better playground facilities for young children.

The families were furious that the new £145,000 redevelopment of Bold Venture Park did not cater for under- eights and that there were not enough play areas in Earcroft and Birch Hall.