Saturday, 4 July 2009

Nicolson Square change of tack

In May this newsblog reported that powers were being sought to make Nicolson Square an exclusion zone to give effective powers to deal with the anti-social behaviour of an number of addicts. Many local people have reported how they feel threatened and uncomfortable by the presence of addicts who have made the recently refurbished square their place of resort.

However, I understand that for reasons of legal complexity, the exclusion zone route is not now being followed. Instead, there has been an upgrading of police activity and local people will have seen frequent visits by uniformed officers to the square and the presence of a marked police observation van. The police activity is now focused on individual people and recording specific behaviour and offences which can lead to anti social behaviour orders (ASBOs).

Alas, what is needed is not so much specific additional powers (ASBOs, exclusion zones), but the enforcement of minor public order legislation. As I understand it the police are in something of a bind here. It is difficult for them to enforce action against say, littering and foul language, for three reasons. First, they are seen as minor and trivial in the context of the many other more serious individual matters they deal with every day. Secondly, gathering evidence is often difficult and costly and the law expects surveillance and other measures to be proportionate to the perceived offence. Thirdly, the enforcement of current sanctions is twice difficult; the Fiscal service will be very reluctant to take proceedings against what are seen as minor offences and the enforcement of fines against people who are homeless or substantially dependant is unpopular and difficult.

Another solution is a change of lifestyle by some of those involved. Whilst there are examples of such dependent people who have changed their lifestyles (yes, locally), this can only be encouraged rather than imposed.

Meanwhile, feelings are strong amongst local residents and people who frequent the local shops and businesses. The reluctance to use the the square because of such fears and discomfort- especially at this time of year - is just bad news for all.

There is no easy solution at the moment. But there is a need for the police particularly to keep up the pressure on those whose minor offences change the atmosphere for the worse for residents and frequenters of this vibrant area.

Following further recent concerns expressed locally this newsblog will report on further contact with the police and developments to address the issue.

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