It’s time to get tougher!
We have all seen it – someone dropping litter, spitting or allowing their dog to foul the pavement and then walking on, seemingly without a care in the world.
There’s no excuse for this kind of environmental vandalism, and the council is doing its bit to reinforce standards of behaviour that apply to everyone – rich or poor – across Newcastle.
Politicians like me know from talking to people on the doorstep that the vast majority care deeply about where they live and that issues like litter and dog dirt are top of the list of concerns.
We know that you want us to get tougher on the hardcore of people who carry on behaving badly and send out a clear message that dropping litter, spitting and letting dogs foul the pavements is unacceptable.
That’s why we’ve decided to increase the amount we fine people for littering and dog fouling from £50 to £75, the highest on-the-spot fine in the North East. We’ll also introduce a by-law making it an offence not to carry a waste bag if walking a dog.
And we will work with police to increase the prosecutions of those who park irresponsibly on pavements – a problem that is not only dangerous for pedestrians but costs us £250,000 a year to replace broken paving slabs.
Because that’s something that people often forget – littering, dog dirt and bad parking ultimately costs you money because the council has to clear it up.
We’ll also investigate naming and shaming people who are caught littering or dog fouling. We want to put people’s names on posters at Metro stations and bus stops so that the right-thinking majority sees us taking action.
In the past we haven’t been tough enough – we’ve persuaded ourselves that it is inevitable that this kind of behaviour goes on in some of our communities. That is an idea we need to challenge – whether in Benwell or Jesmond we must stop the excuses and start to find answers.
Often our poorest communities are unfairly labelled as places where ‘no-one cares’. In fact, the opposite is often true – these places have vocal and well-organised community groups that often call the council to account and fight hard for resources and attention from us.
We want to harness more of this community spirit and we want to work with, support and celebrate citizens who make a positive contribution to their community. We know they will back our new ‘get tough’ approach but we want their ideas on how we can make life better.
For example, how can we help people in Elswick, Benwell and Scotswood stop the scourge of their young people drinking cheap alcohol on the streets.
The old days of the top down ‘council knows best’ approach are over. In the past we haven’t listened enough, but we’re determined to change that.
We know the causes of some of this behaviour are complex, rooted in everything from economic decline to family breakdown. The longer-term solutions to those problems far more investment to solve, but we can make a difference to some of your basic concerns now by getting tougher and sending out a clear message.
The examples I’ve talked about so far are so-called ‘low level’ anti-social behaviour, but the council also has a role to play, in conjunction with other organisations, when it comes to more serious examples of harassment.
We made a stand against Sharon Norman and Gary Wilson who both received Anti Social Behaviour Orders after they caused months of distress to their neighbours in Byker by shouting, swearing loudly, threatening people, playing loud music and being drunk. This was a shocking case of sustained unpleasant and unacceptable behaviour highlighted by the Evening Chronicle on its front page earlier this week.
Since the ASBO was granted, Wilson has been arrested and charged with breaching the order and was given a 12 week prison sentence suspended for a year and ordered to comply with a supervision and drug rehabilitation order.
This case sends out a clear message that anyone who ruins their neighbours lives with this kind of behaviour will be subject to court action.
Thankfully, these type of cases are rare – the vast majority of people in the city are great neighbours and great citizens. We need to celebrate them while coming down hard on those who refuse to play by the rules.
Cllr Stephen Lambert, executive member for community safety and chair of Safe Newcastle