MPs, councillors and police unite against anti-social behaviour
Local MPs, councillors and the police joined forces last week in a unique meeting to discuss the issue of anti-social behaviour in West Sussex villages.
Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert and Horsham MP Francis Maude convened the round-table discussion on Friday last week (31 October) so that representatives of local villages, council officials and the police could have an open exchange about the problem and share ideas for dealing with it.
The meeting was held at Southwater Parish Chambers, where local PCSOs share premises with the parish council and an action plan to tackle anti-social behaviour, introduced with the support of Horsham District Council, has proved a success.
Councillors and officers from West Sussex County Council and Horsham District Council attended the meeting, together with police officers who cover the north and south of Horsham District.
They were joined by parish councillors and members of community partnerships and action groups from Pulborough, Storrington, Billingshurst and Southwater.
The meeting heard from each parish about the problem of anti-social behaviour, attempts to tackle it, and problems that were still remaining. Police representatives and Horsham District Council officers responded with their perspective on the issue.
There was general agreement that while in the main the villages were peaceful places, there were incidents of anti-social behaviour caused by a small minority which upset local people.
The main conclusions of the meeting were that partnership between the police and local authorities was essential. Problem individuals needed to be targeted, and clearly alcohol was a major cause of local nuisance. Local councillors felt very strongly that a police presence in the villages, based in local premises, was essential, with a continuity of officers so that they built up local knowledge.
Welcoming the conclusions of the meeting, Horsham District Councillor and Chairman of Storrington Parish Council Ray Dawe said: "In my view anything that highlights, yet again, the anti-social problem and the need to react to it is a good thing. Surely, no one can be in any doubt as to the total public exasperation with this problem?
"For me, the two most interesting things about the meeting were that everyone in the villages (and it must be true across the whole country) is fed up and plagued by similar problems and that primarily we look to the police to sort them out rather than the Government. But really the problem extends beyond the Police into other areas like housing deprivation and poor parenting.
"It was interesting that Southwater has two long standing PSCOs and a proper police office where the public can go to report crime and perhaps get some reassurance. Why haven't all the villages got this already? I have long said that the big disaster in policing was the closure of village police houses which, of course, served this double purpose of permanent local officer and somewhere the public can go."
Nick Herbert agreed that the meeting was useful: "I was approached separately by community representatives in Pulborough and Storrington about their problems of anti-social behaviour, and I realised they were facing common issues which we might find it useful to discuss together.
"Then I spoke to the police and it became clear to me that there is a lot of negative comment about policing, but it doesn't really get us anywhere. I felt the time had come to get everyone together and discuss it more positively.
"I was aware that Southwater and Billingshurst have made some progress in reducing anti-social behaviour, so I discussed the issue with Francis Maude and we agreed that a round-table meeting to share experience was worth a go."
"I hope that the police take out the message that people want to see a uniformed presence in their communities, and that they value local police stations, while I hope that local representatives will take out the message that positive partnership with the police really can help to deal with these problems."
Francis Maude added his support for the event. "This was a really positive meeting - it was all about solutions. Anti-social behaviour in Southwater, for example, has been dramatically reduced because police officers and PCSOs, the Parish Council and Horsham District Council have worked together.
"Local people know there are PCSOs based in the Parish Council offices and there is a visible presence on the streets. Youngsters have a fantastic new skate park and of course the local leisure centre which is run by the Parish Council.
"After a couple of hours' debate, everyone agreed that a visible presence of police officers or PCSOs was crucial and that ideally local police teams should be based in premises at the heart of each community. Crucially, in Southwater and Billingshurst, PCSOs have been in post for a number of years enabling them to build a rapport with all local residents.
"It was also clear that partnership is vital - indeed, the meeting was only a success because people from so many organisations attended. I am sure that all the communities represented at the meeting will be taking lots of ideas away with them."
The police also reacted positively to the event. Inspector Paul Williams said: "This meeting was an ideal opportunity to get together with partnership organisations from across Horsham District with a view to identifying common trends, whilst at the same time seeking to share good practice. Horsham District has been and remains a safe and pleasant area in which to live.
"Moving forward we will be looking to maximise opportunities to work with our partners and the community to ensure that the small minority responsible for these few acts of anti-social behaviour are held responsible for their actions."
The police reported that there were around 100 incidents of criminal damage a year in each of the villages. Several village representatives raised concerns that criminal damage was not being reported, and therefore was not reflected in the crime figures, because people did not believe that any action would be taken. The police responded that it was essential that all crime was reported so that they could get an accurate picture of the problem and deal with it accordingly.
Cllr Andrew Baldwin, Cabinet Member for Housing and Community Support at Horsham District Council, said: "The Council is offering a reward to anyone with information which leads to the successful prosecution of the small minority of youngsters who are causing criminal damage and committing anti-social behaviour in the district. People are urged to report all such incidents to the Police."
One of the strongest contributions came from a young person present who called for more visible policing. Horsham District Councillor for Pulborough & Coldwaltham Brian Donnelly said: "It was interesting to hear a youth representative say that the biggest deterrent to anti-social behaviour is the presence of Police on the street. This ties in with villagers' long held views that the only way to resolve anti-social behaviour is by the bobby on the beat. You cannot control the villages without patrolling them."
Notes for Editors
1. The meeting took place at 2.30pm on Friday 31 October in the Parish Chambers, Beeson House, Lintot Square, Fairbank Road, Southwater RH13 9LA.