There was both praise and criticism over work undertaken in tackling antisocial behaviour in Rhosddu at a public meeting last night – with the acknowledgment that more can still be done.
The packed out meeting at Rhosddu Community Church was a follow-up to a similar meeting about antisocial behaviour and drug abuse, and a further public Q&A with the PCC – both held in November 2016.
The panel last night consisted of local Councillor Steve Wilson, Wrexham Town Inspector Wycherley, Chief Inspector Dave Jolly, Councillor Hugh Jones, Rhian Jones the Public Protection Officer from Wrexham Council, and an Executive Director from Wrexham Council Lee Robinson.
Various apologies were given, including from Ian Lucas MP and Lesley Griffiths AM who have an office in the locality. There was no representatives from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, nor apologies given on their behalf.
Chief Inspector Jolly opened the meeting with an overview and update since the last meeting, explaining the nitty gritty of a 40 day policing operation during November and December. Statistics given out included that over 2000 hours of PC and PCSO time was directed at the Rhosddu issues, but pointed out that those resources had to be pulled from other wards around the Wrexham area so there was a cost elsewhere to others for the work.
Speaking of direct enforcement that took place, the meeting was told 58 fixed penalty notices had been issued for various breaches of the Public Space Protection Order that is in place and 28 people had been arrested. Various actions at Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMO’s) were cited, with some people being evicted out of the area.
Praise for ‘sterling work’ was offered by a resident on how the police had intervened in a difficult situation involving substance abuse, and as a result the friend in question was now clean for several weeks. Officers present were keen to highlight some of the more positive stories, explaining how one well known local character had offered ‘thanks for turning his life around’ at a recent Christmas function.
The ongoing anti-social behaviour noticeable around Rhosddu specifically was attributed to around 40 men, with the meeting told how work was taking place with them to explain how their actions impacted on others. The meeting was told how it was a myth that this group were not from the area, with the vast majority being ‘Wrexham born and bred, and the rest having being in the area for over five years’, and that not all were infact homeless.
Later another rumour was countered, that this group was also responsible for a series of recent burglaries in the Rhosddu and Acton areas, with the meeting firmly informed by police that it was not the case.
Chief Inspector Jolly added: “It is wrong to blame them for everything. It is wrong to blame them for all the wrongs in society, and all the problems in Wrexham.”
He continued onto to sum up the situation from his point of view saying: “We have not got it right, but things are a lot better. I am proud of my Officers and the work they have done.”
There were endless accounts of the day to day impact in the area on the lives of residents and those working in the area due to the individuals or groups of apparent ‘service users’ – for example those accessing services such as the Community Drugs & Alcohol Service, the Wallich accommodation and support services for homeless people.
Not all were specific to clustered service provision in the Grosvenor / Rhosddu Road areas, with concerns raised about people in HMO’s nearby. Perhaps most pointed was the mention from Lead Councillor Hugh Jones that he himself had to ‘divert from the path he was taking’ when coming into Wrexham recently, but pointed out he ‘did not feel threatened’.
Drug dealing in the Salvation Army, prostitution at a certain HMO, residents regularly wondering if people prone on a pavement were dead or alive, ongoing foul language, regular congregations of service users on business driveways at certain times, fear of leaving property, ‘gangs of people giving passers by earache’, concern about leaving houses empty to go on holiday and feeling threatened walking on certain roads or crossings were recounted by a number of attendees.
Concern was raised not just on the wellbeing of the residents, but the safety of service users themselves, for example one person stating it was a matter of time before a serious injury or death occurs on the Grosvenor Road pedestrian crossing area.
After the meeting one person described the response to the concerns raised ‘as a rugby match, with responsibility being passed around sideways’, and those who can enable solutions being elsewhere.
One resident asked if a one-for-one needle exchange could be created, however was told the current system of many-for-none swaps was Welsh Government policy. Similar issues raised over the clustering of services in Rhosddu was passed up as a planning policy problem, with local objections probably overruled on appeal – again control out of the hands of the local authority.
Such answers did not sit well with the audience, with the largest round of applause of the evening given to a resident who told Cllr Jones – “You are talking rubbish, lad. Come and live in Rhosddu for six months. There is a high concentration of services here, and that is down to the Council.”
The gentleman pointed out that although he was ‘not a fan and has never supported my local councillor’ he did feel the councillor in question was on a ‘hiding to nothing’, enquiring how many of the other 50 councillors had as many or even any services in their wards.
Cllr Jones reiterated his position: “It may sound trite, but we are where we are. If I lived here I would be asking the same questions as you. As a Council we do not have the power to remove. Most are not funded by Wrexham Council. As I say, those who pay the piper call the tune, and the money comes from Welsh Government.”
On the topic of clustering of services the point was raised if a voluntary move of services away from Rhosddu could be explored. A Council officer explained that there were benefits to clustering, noting: “If they are not getting the stepping stone of services people could hang around more as the next step is not there.”
Chief Inspector Jolly highlighted that work was taking place with some service providers as there had been a feeling that a ‘blind eye had been turned’. Stronger terms and conditions imposed on those accessing services were explained, adding: “We have done our best to change the processes. It is not a case of them ignoring the problem, but they are working with very difficult cases”, taking time to run through the benefits of working with individuals to ‘get in their heads’ which then create sustainable solutions.
One new system was outlined in the meeting by a council officer, who detailed a ‘bespoke’ needle hotline had been introduced to councillors, with the aim of rolling it out to the public. The meeting was asked if councillors had communicated this to them, to a resounding ‘no’ from the crowd.
The system appears to be a telephone number that councillors can call, and then Wrexham Council log and deal with the needle issue likely via the StreetScene team.
Currently the number is being kept private, but the aim is to roll it out into a public service – however only once Wrexham Council are satisfied that the service behind the system is working fine, with the officer adding: “It is pointless having the number out there if we cannot respond efficiently. If people have concerns report it to Councillors and we can address it. Once we are happy with the process and that it works we will look at making it public.”
From the detail given all Councillors should have been aware of this new hotline, and should be communicating to residents in their ward that they can be a conduit of information into the new system.
If you are looking for your local Councillor and their contact information – click here for the relevant page on the Council website.
A council officer also provided detail on some of that preparation work behind the launch of the needle hotline, acknowledging that some elements may seem ‘ridiculous’ such as training on where and what to look for on clean ups – but explained those who are not service users, or have had experience, would not be aware of where to look for needles.
Other exploratory work was mentioned with the possibility of Wrexham being the first in Wales to trial ‘auto capping’ needles, or safety syringes.
One more lighter parts of the meeting came when a trader from the bus station enquired about security provision at that location, pointing out that allocated staff often they finish at 5pm and can be offsite several times in a day on other services such as locking up markets. This differed from the account offered by the Council, with the Officer saying that he was paying for longer hours. A ‘program of works’ was referred to that will look to improve the bus station, with helping prevent anti social behaviour as a part of it.
The old Walnut Public House was one specific HMO that was mentioned many times throughout the evening, with confusion over if it was initially granted planning permission on the basis of a student only letting.
Thanks to Marc Jones who has been in touch since the meeting, and like many present has been looking up the application – it appears first application was for student accommodation, however that was cancelled. The approved planning was for a non-student HMO, with the accompanying information referring to good quality student and HMO accommodation, also noting its proximity to Glyndwr University.
Hopefully the local perception of student only planning was not shared with on the ball planning committee members who will have noted the subtle difference when granting it.
Many were concerned about local rumours that there was also a planned application to convert the ex-pub into a bail hostel, which was put to bed by the local councillor and others who said they were unaware of it. There is an application for extending the HMO from 20 to 21 rooms, which raised the eyebrows of one resident and the local councillor, who pondered if such a number would ‘enable something else’.
One local resident enquired if the Council’s enforcement had been ‘asleep on the job’ over planning issues, pointing out that such matters were in the hands of the Council and not Welsh Government. Another spoke how the local Community Councils often put together well reasoned objections but they are ‘totally ignored’ when the go before the Planning Committee.
One resident offered a cunning solution around planning appeals, pointing out that a recent improvement to a service centre was taking place on a listed buildings and therefore flat roof additions could be seen as out of character, and that the lack of parking could be given as a possible refusal reason.
Later in the meeting one resident spoke of his understanding on the change in drugs use on a local and UK level, explaining how no longer was heroin the drug of choice but the former ‘legal highs’ but now rebranded ‘new psychoactive substances’ or NPS’s. Describing how anyone at the meeting could get high for a fiver: “People are not out of it, they get more aggressive. It is very hard, we have to realise all authorities are dealing with a big change in drug culture.”
Marc Jones told us after the meeting: “Most people I spoke to after the meeting felt disappointed that no real answers had been given to the most pressing issues – the problem of anti-social behaviour going forward, the problems of needles in the streets and the over-concentration of services for drug users and the amount of Houses of Multiple Occupation in the Grosvenor ward area.
“The council’s default response was ‘there’s nothing we can do’ but it was clear from a number of issues raised by residents that they had powers in specific circumstances. Rhosddu is a very small residential area – the over-concentration of services has created a huge problem that needs addressing by all those responsible. I’m afraid tonight didn’t do that.”
Input from the Town Centre Forum was also referenced by some on the panel, however as ongoing members/attendees we are unaware of any in depth discussion with decided outcomes from the Forum.
Although no formal date was set for the next meeting, feedback times of around 6-8 weeks were cited in some of the answers given.