LARGE rats have been spotted scurrying around the play area at Southend’s Priory Park, according to furious residents.

Concerned residents have taken to social media to complain that the stream in the park “absolutely stinks”, adding that rats have also been spotted in the park.

Mandy O’Connor, Labour councillor for Victoria ward, posted a picture of one rat to her Twitter page while criticising the Conservative administration – in power for a few weeks – for failing to act on the issue.

However, council bosses claimed the rats and smell is a “natural part of parks and open spaces”, adding that there are “measures in place” to control the vermin.

Ms O’Connor disagreed: “People need to feel safe in the beautiful park. We understand that any waterway is a natural habitat, but the population has grown, and they are venturing out into the children’s play area and further into the park.

“That is extremely concerning, and that is why I would like to see work done by the [Prittlewell] ward councillors.”

One mum, who did not want to be named, said: “It is pretty disgusting. Someone needs to get a grip on it.”

The stream was recently cleaned out after a “huge” amount of debris built up over a long time and caused a major blockage.

According to Meg Davidson, Tory councillor responsible for environment, three council contractors stepped in and removed it.

She added: “We are aware of brown rats and the occasional smell from the stream at Priory Park. Both these occurrences are a natural part of parks and open spaces. The stream is a natural environment and we are aware that, from time to time, there may be slight smells like most natural habitats, which could be due to a number of reasons – less rainfall and warmer weather.

“We do have measures in place to control numbers of the brown rats. These mammals are highly adaptable and will happily live in a variety of habitats.

“The availability of food will affect both the number of rats living in the park and the effectiveness of control measures. Brown rats are omnivorous and will eat almost anything.”