Anti-social behaviour in Durham City leads to calls for a Public Space Protection Order

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recently opened a public consultation on the possibility of introducing a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) on Durham City, to tackle anti-social behaviour.  According to the Council, the PSPO would tackle “begging, urinating or defecating in a public place, and using intoxicating substances/drugs in a public place.” The consultation, found on the Council’s website, closes at 5PM on Sunday 23rd June 2024, and the feedback will be used in a report to Cabinet in the autumn, which could lead to the introduction of a PSPO.

Councillor John Shuttleworth said that “We appreciate that this [anti-social behaviour] can impact on residents, businesses and visitors and that is why our officers have once again looked at gathering evidence which may warrant the implementation of a PSPO. 

“When we looked at a PSPO to control aggressive begging two years ago there was not enough evidence to support making an order. However, we said at the time we would continue to monitor the situation.

“We appreciate that this [anti-social behaviour] can impact on residents, businesses and visitors”

CLLR John Shuttleworth

“Durham Constabulary has now put forward information and we have listened and officers have brought forward new proposals.”

Inspector Dave Clarke of Durham Constabulary spoke to Palatinate about anti-social behaviour in Durham, and attempts to tackle it. “This new proposed Public Space Protection Order tries to encapsulate some of that negative behaviour, particularly in relation to aggressive or nuisance activity, drug use, and, in relation to those people who are getting so intoxicated or inebriated that they are regularly urinating and defecating in the street or alleyways. We get some people who come into the city to take drugs, to drink to excess and generally create a bit of a nuisance. These people are rarely homeless, but will give the appearance of being so, to prey on the kindness and compassion of passers-by who will give them money. They will take what they want from shops without paying, whilst openly admitting they can often make up to £300 a day.”

In data shown to Palatinate by the police, in April 2024, for example, 18.7% of reported police incidents in D1 (the beat code covering Durham City Centre) were related to “a core of around 30-40 repeat offenders”, sometimes rough sleepers or beggars, but also those who just wish to hang around and cause trouble. In some months, the number of incidents caused by this small group of people has approached 30%, which is causing disproportionate alarm and distress to those thousands of other people who wish to enjoy the city.

“We get some people who come into the city to take drugs, to drink to excess and generally create a bit of a nuisance”

Inspector Dave Clarke

Between 1st July 2023 – 30th April 2024, there were 377 anti-social behaviour (ASB) incidents in Durham City. The most common form of this was ASB Nuisance, which equates to 75%, followed by ASB Environmental (18%) and ASB personal (7%). 87% of ASB incidents are not youth-related, meaning most incidents are caused by adults. 36% of incidents have an alcohol qualifier.

One area of concern regarding the impact of anti-social behaviour is its impact on market traders in Market Place. Speaking to Palatinate, market traders have spoken about its impact on their trading.

Poppy, from Durham Vintage, told Palatinate that “We have to deal with thefts all the time, constantly, like every Saturday, when I’m here I’m having to overstaff my stall to make sure that no one steals from me. We’ve had instances of people urinating on our stalls, we’ve had aggressive behaviour, we have had people drunk or on drugs lurking around the stall. It gives a really bad image to Durham as a whole. We survive, especially in the summer when the students aren’t here, on tourists coming in, and its just really off-putting and scary. It gives me anxiety […] and so having that order and meaning that we would’t have these people in our city would be amazing, because it affects us massively.”

“We have to deal with thefts all the time, constantly, like every Saturday, when I’m here I’m having to overstaff my stall to make sure that no one steals from me”

Poppy – Durham Vintage

Another trader said, “We have thefts, we have people drinking out of open containers […] they also smoke drugs. They theive off you as well. Two will come, and they’ll be over there. And one will distract you, and they pinch [things]. Nearly everybody has had something stolen off them. They fight, because we had to get the police […] It’s wrong, they are frightening kids and old people, and they are here every single week. And no, they shouldn’t have to put up with that. We’ve had people urinating up outside the old tarps, hurling abuse. We do nothing wrong, all we do is come to work, and we are just getting abuse from every corner from them.”

In March 2023, up to 80 traders in Durham city centre backed banning nuisance begging and anti-social behaviour. The letter spoke about the “direct and adverse effect” of anti-social behaviour on trade in Durham City. This letter followed the withdrawal of PSPO proposals by the County Council in February 2023, after a public consultation received a mixed response.

Speaking more recently to Palatinate, James Wilson, Operations Manager for Durham Markets Company said: “We work very closely with the city’s police. Our daytime opening hours mean our markets encounter little trouble, but if ever there is a concern, we know that the city’s police are both supportive and effective; they work tirelessly to keep the city centre welcoming at all hours.”

“We know that the city’s police are both supportive and effective; they work tirelessly to keep the city centre welcoming at all hours”

James Wilson – Durham Markets Company

Inspector Dave Clarke told Palatinate that the market traders “are trying their best to build trade and to make it a nice attraction for residents and visitors. Many people come to visit the city, then tell us they are put off from returning, primarily because they see a few people acting in an aggressive, threatening manner anti-social manner. We are hoping that the PSPO powers will help us and partners address that perception and encourage visitors to return and enjoy the city.”

“The Public Space Protection Order will hopefully draw a line in the sand of what behaviour is acceptable in the city. Once in force, there will be signage erected, engagement and education, informing people about what is and isn’t acceptable. It makes the unacceptable behaviour and breach of the PSPO a specific offence, that can be robustly enforced by the police and council staff. At the same time, we work with a number of local third sector partners to ensure that this does not affect those who are otherwise vulnerable, living in and around the city”

“Durham City is a beautiful location and World Heritage Site. Protecting the safe and welcoming public space for the majority of those using the city, deserves as much priority as preserving our historic buildings”

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