GANGS of youths who hang around a town centre are to be the first target for a team of street wardens going on patrol in Crook and Willington.

Wear Valley District Council has set aside £67,500 in its budget to extend its award-winning warden scheme to the two towns.

Six wardens will be appointed and their priority will be to stop anti-social behaviour.

The project is a success in the Woodhouse Close area of Bishop Auckland, Coundon and St Helen Auckland and councillors have been keen to extend the scheme to Crook, Willington and the Dales.

Warden manager Roger Ward said: "We have had meetings with the police in Crook to find out how we can help them with problems in the area, particularly on Hope Street.

"Youths have to go somewhere but by forming in large groups, like they do, they create that fear factor.

"We are going to start tackling these areas with the new wardens and then go on from there."

Mr Ward hopes the scheme will be running in Crook by April.

In the coming weeks, wardens will be recruited and trained to deal with problems of anti-social behaviour.

They will also have powers to impose fixed penalty fines on people disturbing the peace or acting in an anti-social manner.

Shopkeepers on Hope Street welcomed the news that it has been made a priority and say they hope the large groups may be moved on.

One shopkeeper, who did not want to give her name, said that wardens had been brought in for pre-Christmas patrols on the street and that gangs had stayed away for a while.

She said: "There are usually about 30 children a night congregating outside the telephone boxes and doctors' surgery and they do intimidate passers by."

Another shopkeeper said: "People don't really like to come here in the evening when it gets dark.

"The kids are abusive, so it would be much better for us if there were wardens on patrol to put a stop to it."

Community Inspector George Ledger said: "We are very happy with the news of the wardens. It gives us the opportunity to widen the police family in the Crook and Willington area."