Questions have been raised over Wrexham Council’s approach in tackling drug abuse and antisocial behaviour in and around the town centre – with Wrexham’s MP stating the problems have become worse in the past year.
Speaking to Wrexham.com this morning in a rainy Rhosddu the Wrexham MP Ian Lucas called for a joined-up approach between North Wales Police and Wrexham Council in tackling the apparent increase in drug abuse and antisocial behaviour.
Mr Lucas has previously been critical over the current enforcement of the Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) in Rhosddu and town centre and last month called on Wrexham Council to do more to enforce the policy.
Wrexham.com has been told of the contents of the North Wales Police and Wrexham Council bulletins which keep information on the details of the notices and arrests for the PSPO enforcement.
As of last week there had been 52 notices and 16 arrests since the PSPO was introduced.
47 of those tickets were issued by Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and police officers, with the remainder appearing to us to have been issued by Wrexham Council enforcement officers. Last week we asked Wrexham Council if we could have the exact figures, with a breakdown by ward and date, however we have not yet had a reply.
Using our maths that in October that five tickets had been issued at that point by the council, and that number appears unchanged (52 – 47 = 5) we asked what local MP Ian Lucas’s reaction would be if that was infact the case.
Mr Lucas stated he was ‘surprised’ by the figures as he had raised the issue last month, adding : “I would have expected them to be embarrassed by the low number of tickets issued. I am frankly amazed they have not issued any since October. It is indicative of the local authority not playing the role it should be in dealing with the problem.
“I have been critical of the police and the local authority on this, and I sense that the local authority, particularly individual councillors appear to be blaming the police. The councillors need to be expressing their views within the council about the leadership that is coming from the council on these issues.
“I have been pressing the council extremely hard on enforcement on a number of areas for a very long time.”
Mr Lucas outlined a problem hotspot meters away from his office in Rhosddu where he said ‘many, many complaints’ had been received, and had been communicated to him. He added: “The council are just not working in a joined up manner to take action to enforce the order they themselves have imposed.”
We asked Mr Lucas for his views on Lead Member for Communities and Partnerships, Cllr Hugh Jones’ comment that a ‘multi-faceted approach‘ was required to tackle the problem, and that numbers of tickets was not a true measure of success.
Mr Lucas told us: “The fundamental issue here is the communication of the plan that the council and the police have. I understand there is an agreed plan between the council and the police to deal with the issue we have in the town centre.
“I have asked Inspector Kneale myself ‘what is the plan?’ because I do not know what it is. I was told there is a plan but it is not his property it is owned by the council. The council have not communicated it to me or I believe to anyone else. Therefore they need to tell us what the proposal and what the plan is, and make it clear what they are proceeding with.”
“I assume the PSPO is part of that plan. I supported, and in fact argued for, the PSPO on the park next door because I received complaints that it was being used for drug dealing and inappropriate behaviour rather than what it should be used for. I argued for that and believe it was an entirely right approach. Clearly it is a multi faceted approach.”
He added: “For Hugh Jones to say I am not coming forward with any positive proposals is simply untrue because, for example, I have held two play events which I have organised on the park next door to try and change the perception of the park in Rhosddu over the summer which was done in conjunction with local agencies.
“There is an element of enforcement that should be done, but there needs to be support and I have made this clear every time I say anything about this, that we support these individuals.”
“There is an important aspect that is being missed, did you know the number of offences for anti social behaviour in North Wales generally has actually fallen in official records since 2010 to present levels? So the number of protections that are happening on offences on anti-social behaviour is actually declining. In contrast the number of cautions that are being given are increasing.
“I am receiving complaints from individual magistrates that cases are not being brought before the courts. There are fewer prosecutions, fewer cases before the courts and we are having a situation where the perception from the public on the ground is there is a massive problem but we are having fewer prosecutions.
“The reason for that is the resources have declined there are fewer police officers now, and fewer community support officers than there were five years ago. That is a very large part of the problem.”
With the talk of cuts echoing Chief Constable Polin and Police and Crime Commissioners discussion last week over the £27m taken out of the North Wales Police budget and a possible further £4.5m cuts to come – and in the context of a meeting the week before being organised by a Conservative ‘campaigner’ Andrew Atkinson we enquired of our MP’s views:
Mr Lucas said: “It is very difficult in my position not to be accused of playing politics with this but the reality is there has been a 20% cut in policing budget since 2010. I was very very happy with the action we took in government, introducing PCSO’s and increasing police numbers during the time we were in government.
“Ten years ago I was not getting complaints like this. This is a situation that has developed in recent times, and I think has got worse in the last year. There is a cumulative impact in the reductions.
“Hugh Jones is a Conservative, and he is the person responsible for dealing with this for the last four years in the council. The council should be working in a crime and disorder partnership with the police to address these issues and it is clearly not working.
“The impact of the cumulative cuts that have happened is the lack of policing on the ground.
I think there is an overall crisis in the criminal justice system that is developing on the back of reductions that are taking place.
“The responsibility for this must lie with the government. If the situation had improved in terms of crime and policing they would be claiming credit, it clearly has not. It is getting worse.
“I have worked very hard to liaise with both agencies, I have a close working relationship with the police, but I am afraid the local authority just do not communicate either with me or with the general public about what steps they are taking and what they are trying to achieve.”
On that point we asked Mr Lucas why he felt there was poor communication between him and the local authority.
Mr Lucas said: “They are trying to achieve political credit at this particular time, for example by holding meetings and saying they are responsive when in fact the responsibility must lie with them, because they have been in charge of the policy along with the local police for the last four years.
“I have spoken privately with Hugh Jones about this over a year ago and complained I was not being kept informed about what actions were being taken by the local authority but he has not responded at all in that area.
“I have to stress this is not just an issue in Rhosddu, I had a letter the week before last from Offa Community Council following a meeting where they basically said there was insufficient policing in their area and as a result they were very concerned about the levels of crime and anti social behaviour.
“It is not just a problem in Rhosddu, I think Rhosddu has been in the news for the last two weeks, but it is right across the town.
Citing a letter he wrote to the Chief Constable and the recent feisty PCC meeting, Mr Lucas said: “I was asked by individual PCSO’s about there powers under the PSPO. I was extremely disappointed by the reply I got back from the Chief Constable as it seemed to me he had no understanding of the scale of the concern in Wrexham. I think he might have discovered that last Tuesday.
“I think the police on the ground who deal with the issue everyday do understand how big it is, they wanted assistance that I tried to give them, but the Chief Constable didn’t. ”
With the local council elections around six months away several people have commented about possible candidates or existing councillors raising their profiles ahead of a possible run for office. We asked if Mr Lucas would agree with a range of people who have described ‘grandstanding’ activities to us.
“It is rather odd for councillors to be instigating petitions when they are elected to address the problems and work with the police in dealing with the issues in the partnerships that we have been discussing.
“It is an important issue and it is inevitable that it will be raised in the context of the local council elections.
“It links in to the perception of Wrexham town centre and the issues we have with empty shops. When I raise the issue of empty shops one reaction I often get from members of the public is ‘I don’t go into Wrexham because of all these people hanging around and I feel intimidated’. It is another negative perception of the centre of the town and it is a really important issue we need to address.
“It would be very helpful in the next six months for people to set out a clear objective on these issues on what they want to achieve and indicate how they will achieve it.
“I think one of the best things we could do is to work collectively to achieve these goals unfortunately I don’t think the present administration in the council is happy with that and works in a very closed and insular way, and considers any form of criticism in a very defensive way.”
Later we asked Wrexham Council about the ‘plan’ to deal with local anti social issues, specifically dealt with by the PSPO. We asked if it was possible to discover what the plan is titled, if it is a public document, and why it had not been shared with the town’s MP.
We also mentioned that Mr Lucas had told us that he had spoken with Cllr Jones around a year ago about lack of communication on this issue and has not had a response and invited a comment on why the local MP appears disenfranchised from the general communication loop.
Cllr Hugh Jones, Lead Member for Communities and Partnerships, replied: “The plan referred to by Mr Lucas is a detailed operational plan, which contains a broad range of strategies and includes preventative measures and actions to deter and disrupt inappropriate behaviour and develop recovery pathways.
“Many of the plan’s details are of necessity confidential due to their operational nature, and the release of certain details would jeopardise ongoing operations.
“The plan has been shared with relevant Local Members in confidence as is appropriate, but it would not be normal practice for such plans to be shared with others.
“The Public Space Protection Order was the subject of statutory consultation and was widely publicised, and I spoke with Mrs Lucas at a Town Centre Forum Meeting.
“If the Member of Parliament wishes to make contact I am happy to discuss the principles of the plan with him.”