Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Newspaper column 29 July 2020 - ASB issues

One issue has dominated the news and social media in St Austell this past week – the rise of anti-social behaviour, drugs and crime in the town centre.

For many years now this has been an ongoing issue that tends to see an increase in the summer months. However, it was quite clear from the number of people who contacted me that there had been a significant increase in cases since the beginning of this month.

Having spoken to businesses representatives, local Police and the Town Council, it was clear to me that urgent action was needed, particularly as local businesses were already facing big challenges to draw people into the town following the easing of the lockdown restrictions. Therefore, I used my position as the local MP to call an urgent meeting last Thursday. Initially Cornwall Council declined to send any representatives to the meeting but after I pressed the point with them, they did eventually agree to join us by video link.

This is particularly frustrating as last summer we saw a noticeable improvement as a result of the hard work of local businesses, the Police and council working together. However, it does feel that all that good work has been undone in just a few weeks as a result of the number of people currently being housed in the town by Cornwall Council.

I have always been of the view that this issue needed a dual approach. We need to address the symptom by having a visible Police and security presence in the town. But we cannot just go on throwing resources at the symptoms, we also need to understand what the cause of the problem is and address them.  Whilst this is a complex matter and I do not pretend for a moment there are any simple long term answers, there is no doubt in my mind that more could be done to understand and take action to deal with the causes.

Whilst all towns have their problems with anti-social behaviour, it has been true for too long that St Austell has more than its share of challenges. It is undeniable that there are a significant number of facilities around the town that provide housing to those with complex needs and chaotic lifestyles. Recent figures produced have highlighted that St Austell has a higher number of supported accommodation beds commissioned by Cornwall Council than other comparable place in Cornwall.
This is something I have been working on for more than 3 years and in fact had a meeting with senior Cornwall Council officers planned for March, which unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the lockdown.

In calling the meeting last week my aim for to first agree some immediate action in order to ensure the current situation was improved quickly. But I also wanted to ensure steps were put in place to work to find longer term solutions.

I am pleased to report that the meeting went very well. I was very pleased with the way everyone from St Austell made a robust presentation to Cornwall Council of the challenges our town faces – including the Police, Town Council including the Mayor and Deputy, and those from the towns’ businesses community. We all agreed following the meeting that for the first time we felt as though Cornwall Council ‘got it’.

The local Police were able to confirm at the meeting that they would be increasing their presence in the town centre immediately and it was good to receive reports of several arrests that were made in the following few days. Also, the outreach services from the anti-social behaviour team agreed to increase their patrols. From my visits to the town in the days that followed it was clear that this had an immediate impact and the businesses I spoke to, reported a noticeable improvement.

However, I am also determined that we address the underlying causes of this issue. It was disappointing that still, after more than two years of me asking Cornwall Council the questions, they were unable to provide us with any figures as to how many people with complex needs, the various departments of Cornwall Council are currently housing in St Austell. Those at the meeting did however commit to provide me and the Town Council with this information in the near future.

This will be the first step to ensuring that St Austell is treated fairly by the council and that we can all work together to ensure we do not see a repeat of the events of the past few weeks. I am determined that this will now happen and will continue to work with the Town Council, Police and businesses to make sure it does.