This is one of the most frequent issues I’m asked to deal with as a local councillor and I’m aware there is a huge level of frustration locally at the length of time it currently takes for these issues to be resolved. Very often a small minority of residents in both council and private accommodation persist in anti social behaviour which makes life a misery for everyone else. The process for dealing with these issues very often takes a year or several years to resolve, which has a huge impact on the lives of those who have to put up with it.
Several councillors today expressed their frustration with the lengthy legal process relating to eviction in the most serious cases and the limited options currently available outside of the eviction process.
It was interesting to note that although councils in Wales have the powers to issue fixed penalty notices in relation to anti social behaviour, not one actually does so. The reason for this tends to surround the limits of current legislation and also the limitation of existing resources.
What came out of today’s meeting was quite a range of different concerns from councillors regarding a lack of police response, a lack of resources to deal with issues such as dog fouling and noise nuisance, frustration with the legal process in terms of persistent offenders and a general feeling that both the police and the council need to do more. It would seem a real can of worms has been opened.
In the first instance, the committee have decided to arrange a workshop, inviting other relevant groups, agencies and councillors to discuss all of these issues in more detail and importantly, to discuss what options are available to the council and other agencies to deal with these problems more effectively.
Council officers also stressed that the solution lies in joint working with other bodies such as the police and that the council simply did not have the resources to act as a ‘housing police force’ across the county borough. A valid point, but my concern is that depending on the issue, the police often tell residents the issue is a council one, and the council often inform residents it’s a police issue, leaving the victim of anti social behaviour with little more than a brick wall. Certainly in relation to council properties, the council does have a responsibility as ‘the landlord’ to ensure tenants abide by their tenancy agreement.
In terms of noise nuisance in particular, there are several potential solutions such as the establishment of an out of hours response team which could work with the police to deal with issues and gather evidence as situations occur. Currently at weekends and out of hours the council provides an advice service only. Several councillors also commented that residents were struggling to either get through to the police or to get them to come out, an issue that clearly needs tackling. Fixed penalty notices may also be part of the solution, with more research needed into how effective these are in other areas of the UK. Of course there are also cost implications to consider in terms of additional resources, but there is no doubt that this discussion needs to take place.
I’m hopeful today’s meeting will be the start of finding real practical solutions that will make a difference across Wrecsam, there was certainly a consensus (from councillors at least) that this needs to happen.