As a Conservative, I support the view that decisions should be taken as close as possible to the people who are likely to be affected by them. On Monday the Residents Association with Cllr King, agreed to the plan to have it removed following a brief presentation from SGT Connor and me on the measures now in place to deal with the rising anti-social behaviour problem in the town.
On Tuesday at the PACT meeting in Westgate (Police & Community Action), the same course of action was agreed, with traders present and both KCC Councillor Burgess and Cllr King.
On Wednesday the bench was removed into storage. It needs repair and I asked the council officer responsible if she would try and contact the family of Mrs. Tree to whom it is dedicated to let them know why. Otherwise, I would like to see it positioned overlooking the seafront next season, a recommendation that was welcomed by the Residents Association. I have attached a picture of it for any readers that may not recall the condition is was in! The newagent's headline refers to the kids stealing a mobility scooter and placing it on top of the bus stop opposite one night.
Presently we have a problem with the idea of the Piggy Bank Nursery putting a lighter weight bench outside during the day and removing it in the afternoons because of insurance and Health & Safety issues but 'Milly's Collectables' has very kindly offered to let tired elderly residents sit on the sofas for sale outside her shop and these have the added advantage of being undercover. I have passed this message to the surrounding traders so that they can pass it on.
This Saturday morning, I visited the shops in Station road and the support for the bench's removal was unanimous. Simultaneously, closed circuit TV was being installed and tuned-in outside the station, a temporary installation but none-the-less it's still CCTV coverage. Traders tell me that they are against the return of the bench until such a time as the anti-social behaviour problems are fully resolved and they feel that returning it to the same spot would not be a good idea, given that it acts as a focus for such behaviour from teenagers and drunks and or both.
The dispersal order around Westgate starts this coming Tuesday and runs until 16th April next year and SGT Connor's TASK team of Police officers will be present for some weeks to come. Since the bench was removed on Wednesday, she tells me that Westgate has been quiet and has thanks the council for such a quick response in accepting her recommendation.
I understand that Cllr King has now changed his mind and believes that we were hasty in removing the bench so quickly and would like to see it returned. My own view is that as a community dealing with a remarkable rise in anti-social incidents over a very short period, it was important to act quickly and decisively in partnership with the police and the traders to recover our town centre. I'm happy, like the traders to see the bench returned in the future when Westgate is back to its peaceful self but having within just over two weeks, managed to arrange a police presence, CCTV a dispersal order and the removal of a problem item of street furniture, I think we should allow a little time for the measures to take effect before we react arbitrarily to a handful of complaints about the removal of the bench.
I'm very open to suggestions and immediately available to both email and comments on the subject made here.