A council has defended introducing sweeping powers to tackle antisocial behaviour at beauty spots after hearing claims it is designed to cover up for police inaction, will cause more hassle than it is worth and lead to a rash of unnecessary measures across the area.
Richmondshire District Council’s deputy leader Councillor Helen Grant said hundreds of residents had backed the introduction of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) at the Richmond Falls and Batts area of Richmond following crowds of young people sparking high levels of anxiety in the town.
A meeting of the authority’s corporate board heard claims alarming incidents last summer had been triggered by a combination of lockdown measures being lifted, pubs remaining closed and mass parties being arranged on social media involving revellers from South Yorkshire, Sunderland and Newcastle.
Councillors heard how residents had been left traumatised and teams of volunteers had collected hundreds of bags of rubbish, including large numbers of nitrous oxide cannisters, that were dumped during the parties.
The PSPO embraces a wide range of situations, such as “behaving in a way, including by congregating in a group, that causes or is likely to cause harassment”, littering or having a barbecue.
Referring to other areas of Richmondshire which also saw antisocial behaviour as lockdown measures were lifted, Cllr Grant said: “This would be an excellent template for the future should be need to bring one out the top drawer and get it moving quickly.”
She said should further issues over antisocial behaviour arise, the order would also give the authority “leverage to obtain funding to make things better”.
However, The Green Party and Independent councillor Kevin Foster said while he supported the order, the authority should not have to employ stewards and marshalls in an area that places few demands on the police.
Cllr Foster said: “The Public Disorder Act 1986 is there for the police to act. The residents of the whole of Richmondshire pay for the police to perform. I don’t think we get a good enough performance from them.”
He said such incidents would not happen again if pubs were open and raised concerns it could lead to curbs on what could be considered acceptable behaviour “spreading like wildfire” across Richmondshire.
Cllr Foster said: “Do we really want outsiders affecting what we do in Richmondshire? I don’t have a problem with people having a barbecue on the stones.”
Cllr Foster told the meeting a PSPO introduced in Colburn to tackle antisocial behaviour had not worked.
He added: “They cause more hassle than they are worth.”
Cllr Grant replied anybody who lived through the incidents last year would be concerned about the same thing happening again.
She said: “What we discovered was that the police, even with the support of the military police, did not have capacity and that’s why we had to engage the people who came along to steward.”
She added the PSPO in Colburn had worked and led to a youth project which had seen those responsible for antisocial behaviour become community leaders.