WISBECH: Zero tolerance of drinking in the street as police and council promise clampdown

SPECIAL REPORT By JOHN ELWORTHY STREET drinking in Wisbech is to be banned following escalating reports of anti social behaviour fuelled by alcohol. A zero tolerance approach is now under consideration by Fenland District Council and the police who say



STREET drinking in Wisbech is to be banned following escalating reports of anti social behaviour fuelled by alcohol.

A 'zero tolerance' approach is now under consideration by Fenland District Council and the police who say they are reacting to growing public disquiet.

A 25 page report to the council's licensing committee says that in just one month- April- CCTV cameras logged 267 incidents of people seen drinking in public places.

Residents in the town centre, around the Nene, and in Wisbech Park say they are fed up with people urinating in public, smashing glass beer bottles in the street and many are intimidated by the growing number drinking in public.

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Linn Bagwell, principal licensing officer, says that in a recent survey, a quarter of residents and business surveyed express concerned about alcohol consumption on the streets and in the park.

"Many said they felt alarmed and threatened by the behaviour of the people involved in street drinking," she says.

Her report, which sets out the steps the committee must now enact to introduce new laws, is due to be considered by councillors today.

If approved, there will be a month long public consultation and once the committee has considered public reaction, the legalities can be introduced.

Police will be given powers to control the consumption of alcohol within the designated areas and can insist people stop and confiscate alcohol from anyone they believe is actually drinking it or they believe intend to drink it.

A fixed penalty of £50 is the first stage but the police can also arrest and prosecute offenders and the courts have power to impose up to £500 in fines. Offenders can also have bail conditions attached to stop them from drinking in public.

If approved, the new by law, and the penalties for breaking the law, will be set out on laminated posters to be displayed in the area covered by the new regulations.

FIVE areas in which street drinking will be banned are outlined in the report to the licensing committee.

Councillors will be asked if they support all of the proposed areas or will only want street drinking banned in some of them.

The five areas being discussed today are:

1: Wisbech Town Park and associated areas.

2: Wisbech Town Centre

3: Wisbech North End and associated areas

4: De Havilland Road area

5: Nene Waterfront Regeneration area.

In her report, Ms Bagwell refers to the success of recent dispersal orders in the town which helped reduce anti social behaviour. Whilst they were operating, 400 people were dispersed and of these nine were arrested for contravening a direction to disperse.

But she says a dispersal order is only a short term aim to break up and disperse anti social groups.

"There is always a need to consider the underlying cause of disorder," she says. "It was evident that groups of adults are purchasing 'off sale'alchohol and then consuming the same in public places."

Side effects of this, she claims, are:

n members of the public are put off using public spaces

n public urination

n public spaces littering

n criminal damage to public facilities

She says the regulations involved in bringing in new orders to halt street drinking do not have to conduct a formal assessment to consider the problem.

"It is for the local authority to be satisfied that public nuisance, annoyance or disorder has been associated with drinking in the area concerned," she says. If the committee believes that to be so they have the right to bring in the new orders.

IF you get stopped by a police officer for drinking- or attempting to drink- in a public place, here's what he will be required to say.

"This is a designated public place in which I have reason to believe that you are/have been drinking alcohol. I required you to stop drinking and give me the containers(s) from which you are/have been drinking and any other containers (sealed or unsealed).

"I must inform you that failure to comply with my requests without reasonable excuse, is an offence for which you can be arrested."

CHURCH Gardens, Wisbech, has become one of the worst places for alcohol incidents and anti social behaviour, the committee will be told.

These mainly occur between 1pm and 4pm, says Miss Bagwell, and the main problems appear to stem from groups of men gathering in the park gardens and drinking lager.

But Church Terrace is also another hot spot for drinkers, as too is St Peter's Gardens where the problems occur later- mainly from 7pm to 11pm.

"The problems seem to be two or more males in their late twenties and thirties drinking on the benches and causing damage and being abusive to passing shoppers and other park users," she says.

RESIDENTS of Leverington Road have submitted complaints to the committee about problems caused by drinkers.

One woman says her family is often subject to "high levels of noise, screaming and swearing" any time through the night and up until 3am. She says the main problem seems to be caused by people drinking in the road.

Another resident says he has lived there for nearly 20 years and regularly collects can and bottles from his garden. His rubbish bins have been overturned and rolled down the road.

"This indicator of alcoholic disorder has caused him to be continually on his guard," says Ms Bagwell.

Another resident says drunks have walked over his car, scratched and dented it, and garden furniture has been stolen and alcohol cans dropped across his lawn.

A FENLAND Council street cleaner will tell the committee that around half of the litter he recovers in Wisbech town centre each day is alcohol related.

"He feels that he is trying to keep the neighbourhoods nice, and is fighting a losing battle," says Ms Bagwell.

THIRTY two residents of Mill Close and De Havilland Road were recently surveyed- all said the main problems were public drinking and anti social behaviour.

EXTENSIVE publicity will follow once the new drinking ban is introduced, councillors will be told.

And they will be assured that leaflets highlighting the ban will be widely distributed in different languages.

ONE PCSO who conducts foot and cycle patrols in Wisbech Park says she spoke with 40 residents last year to ask their views on neighbourhood problems.

"These main issues were identified as adults drinking in the park and surrounding areas and using the park as a toilet," she will tell the committee.

"They stated that these persons were in the park as early as 7am and then all hours of the day and night. Residents felt intimidated by them, and they are noisy, dirty and rude.