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Housing Estates (Vandalism)

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 11:40 pm on 17th November 1987.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.[Mr. Dorrell.]

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West 11:43 pm, 17th November 1987

I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise the matter of vandalism on outer city estates. That vandalism causes fear, aggravation and harm to people who live on estates in parts of my constituency and on similar estates throughout the United Kingdom.

Quite rightly, great emphasis has been placed by Governments on inner city deprivation, on problems of urban renewal, and on the needs of people who live in deprived city centre areas. What has not been highlighted has been the disadvantage suffered in the outer city housing areas, such as Beaumont Leys, Braunstone, New Parks, Stocking Farm and Mowmacre in my constituency, places where people are living very often in difficult circumstances, partly because the Government have not provided them with the resources which are needed for them to be properly protected.

I pay tribute to the people of those areas for the efforts they make as communities to help and to serve each other. I pay tribute to my Labour colleagues who are councillors in those areas for their constant, unremitting efforts on behalf of their constituents. The work that they have to do is often difficult. As a result of growing deprivation, need and disadvantage, vandalism has become a scourge which makes too many people's lives thoroughly miserable, makes too many people afraid to leave their homes, and too many elderly folk in particular, afraid to walk in the streets.

I ask the Government to consider how greater resources particularly housing resources, can be brought into those areas. We must not forget that local authority housing has been severely cut, that 50 per cent. of the housing money has been removed from local authorities and that they are not even allowed to make use of the money that they received from the sale of council houses. Hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that any restriction on the use by councils of their own money, realised from the sale of their own council houses, is totally wrong and that these moneys should be released for use by the councils.

Secondly, there are not enough police in those areas. In some places the police stations are shut at weekends and in the evenings. There are not enough policemen on the beat and there are not enough police available on call when they are needed so that those whose houses are robbed, those who are attacked and those whose property is vandalised feel that they have no direct access to the authority that could help them.

Thirdly, most of the vandalism is carried out by young people. Of course, they should know and behave better, and one can often place the blame on parents. But the reality in these estates is that a vast number of parents are coping in circumstances which are very difficult for them. There are broken homes and single parent and other families where people are struggling without the support which decent society should provide.

The youngsters on those estates are not merely entitled to jobs and to schooling, but also and as of right to have care taken of them when they have free time outside school and employment. It is not generally recognised that there is huge unemployment in the outer city estates. In Leicester the highest levels of unemployment are on these estates, not in the inner city. I am told that in south Braunstone, unemployment is as high as 60 per cent. When so many of the unemployed are youngsters, and when they have nothing to do with their days and evenings, it is scarcely surprising that they turn to criminal mischief, which is such a misery for all. What do they find on the estates after school or after work? There is nothing for their recreation. These are deserts of houses where communities grow up together without the sort of facilities for young people to have supervised enjoyment in a way that, happily, so many of the inner cities have.

That is changing. There are now some neighbourhood and community centres. But youngsters want discos. They want to dance, play football and enjoy themselves, and so they should. If they do not, they will be liable to run wild. I know something of this because before I was elected to the House some 17 years ago I helped to run a youth club in the east end of London for many years. We used to work with youngsters who were clubbable and some who were unclubbable. It was most enjoyable. We learnt more from it than the youngsters, but they had a place to go where they could spend their time with people whose company they enjoyed.

The effect of the disadvantage, lack of facilities and policing, and unemployment has been a growth in criminal damage and vandalism, which is completely unacceptable. The Government's programme does little to assist and, as a result, we have seen an incidence of crime of which the Government should be deeply ashamed, saying as they do that they are concerned about crime — a Government who came into office and stayed in office on a law and order programme.

Vandalism, I am told, costs local government about £800 million a year. It costs private business, including insurers, £1·2 billion a year. It costs British Telecom about £36 million a year. In Greater London, there are 5,000 incidents a month when phone boxes alone are vandalised. The House should understand that the vandalising of a phone box is not merely a matter of inconvenience. They are often used by people who cannot afford telephones in their own homes to attain and achieve the immediate help they may need when they have to call ambulances, ask for help or reach the police.

Vandalism costs British Rail £1 million a year. In some places, the police and the Government have turned their attention with some results, but in outer housing areas vandalism is getting worse. Criminal damage is now 15 per cent. of all reported crime. In Leicestershire in 1980 there were 4,357 incidents, and in 1986 there were 7,141—an increase of 64 per cent. in the last six years of Tory rule. That is reflected elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Indeed, it is almost the same. In 1980 there were 360,000 incidents in England and Wales and in 1986, 584,000 — an increase of 62 per cent. From 1985 to 1986 incidents were up 8 per cent. We are told that the Government estimate that under 10 per cent. of offences of criminal damage are reported, so it is clear that there are literally millions of acts of vandalism each year.

Vandalism has reached a stage in parts of my constituency where the local communities are gathering together in neighbourhood watch schemes, and I congratulate them on that. They are seeking ways to come together in order to reduce the damage. St. Aidan's vicarage on New Parks estate and St. Aidan's church have suffered vandalism of the sort that we thought would be kept away from a house of God. Windows have been smashed and are now kept permanently bricked up, and cars have been stolen. The home of Father Darren Smith was burgled, and insurers are saying that they may refuse to cover further damage.

I shall be chairing a meeting of citizens of New Parks on Saturday evening which will be attended by the police, councillors, local authorities and education authorities. They are coming together because the local community is seeking help. It is seeking to work together, seeking more facilities for the young, more police, and improvements on the estates with better lighting and security, vandal-proof equipment and alarms. It is seeking an education programme for public awareness to improve the vigilance of local people. It is seeking to improve the maintenance of the facilities on the estate.

I ask the Government to recognise the needs of the outer city housing estates. I ask them to recognise the failure in the past to make provision for those needs. I ask them to understand that that failure has led to vandalism on a growing scale, and to real difficulties for the good people who live on those estates.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East 11:54 pm, 17th November 1987

I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) on his good fortune in obtaining this debate, and on the work that he has done over 17 years in Leicester in promoting the interests of the outer estates. As a fellow Leicester Member, I associate myself with his comments.

I feel very worried about the Government's obsession with inner city areas. Like my hon. and learned Friend, I think it extremely important to place more resources on the outer estates. I join him in calling for the establishment of an outer estates task force. If it is all very well for the Government to give £1 million to Highfields, they should give £1 million to Northfields, Netherhall, Thurnby Lodge, Braunstone and the other outer areas of Leicester. Unless we adopt that approach, many of the scenarios painted by my hon. Friend will become a reality.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe , Broxbourne 11:55 pm, 17th November 1987

I am pleased that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) has raised this topic for debate. I also note the contribution made by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), and the presence in the Chamber of my hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) and for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham).

The debate gives me the opportunity to restate the Government's commitment to promoting effective measures to combat vandalism, and to set out our approach and the progress that we have made so far. As the hon. and learned Member has explained, vandalism is one of the most prevalent and distressing blights on the quality of life today. It takes many and varied forms ; it affects all walks of society and all types of property. However, vandalism on housing estates is especially distressing and serious because it intrudes upon, and can destroy, what people hold most dear—their security in their own homes, and their families' quality of life.

Vandalism is by no means a recent phenomenon. As a statutory offence, criminal damage has been on the statute book in various forms for a long time. But there is a general perception, born out by the Home Office's published statistics, that the problem has become more serious and common in recent times.

In the 1950's, criminal damage accounted for less than 1 per cent. of recorded offences. It now accounts for about 15 per cent. That proportionate increase has taken place during a period when the overall crime rate has also been rising.

It is possible, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has done tonight, to try to explain the problem by reference to particular factors, such as the design of modern housing estates or the lack of recreational and employment opportunities for the youngsters who are most likely to indulge in vandalism. In fact, evidence from the research studies that have been carried out and our own individual experience tell us that vandalism—like crime in general — is a product of many and various social and individual factors. It cannot be pinned down to any specific cause or causes, important though some of those mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman undoub-tedly are.

What is perhaps more important is to reach some measure of agreement on the need for action, and on effective measures to tackle the problem. I am glad to be able to say that action is, indeed, being taken.

No one can doubt the Government's commitment to reducing crime in all its various forms. The momentum generated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's crime prevention seminar held in January 1986 has been carried forward by the setting up of a ministerial group which, under Home Office chairmanship, helps to coordinate efforts and initiatives across Government Departments.

Among those in the front line of the fight against vandalism are, of course, the police. The hon. and learned Gentleman called tonight for more policing on estates. That is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but everyone knows that the Government consider it essential that there is a strong police service of high morale.

That we have achieved. The strength of the police force is now higher than it has ever been, standing at 122,000 officers supported by 40,000 civilian staff. As a result of the increase that we have made in police strength, chief officers have been able to deploy more officers on local foot patrols. That will help to build public confidence and will improve the officer's detailed knowledge of his beat. That should help directly to prevent and detect many of the sort of offences that have been referred to in this debate.

But the police cannot do the job unaided. There is now almost universal acceptance that the fight against vandalism can be really successful only if there is participation throughout the community. It is obviously essential that the local authority should work closely together with the police in tackling crime and vandalism on housing estates.

But even with the statutory agencies working closely together, there is still a need to enlist the active support of the local community. It is this approach, seeking to tackle the problem at a variety of levels by a variety of means, which is reflected in the initiatives which the Department of the Environment is actively promoting to tackle problems on run down council housing estates.

That brings me to the specific measures that my Department is supporting to deal with these problems. Since 1979 the Department has supported the priority estates project, which works closely with local authorities to improve conditions on their run down estates. The PEP approach involves giving residents on these estates an effective say in how their estates are run.

It is, of course, the residents who suffer the vandalism, graffiti and other anti-social occurrences. It is often they who come up with the most imaginative and effective ideas for tackling the problems. PEP has to date been focusing its efforts on 30 of the most difficult estates in England and Wales. It aims to stabilise the community, encourage self-help and reduce crime and anti-social behaviour.

My Department and the Home Office are jointly funding research, just begun, to quantify and evaluate the effectiveness of crime prevention measures on run down estates. Those results will be published and made widely available.

Many of the approaches pioneered by the priority estates project are now being taken forward on a broader front under the Department's Estate Action programme. That initiative was launched in June 1985 specifically to help local authorities tackle problems on their most difficult, run down and vandalised estates. In Estate Action's first year the Government approved 138 schemes covering 58,000 properties in 66 local authorities, involving proposed expenditure of more than £50 million. The lion's share — some £17 million — of those extra resources was targeted on measures to increase security for residents on the council estates concerned.

Leicester, along with over 60 other local authorities, has already benefited from extra resources under our Estate Action programme. Last year Leicester received a extra allocation of over £90,000 towards the first phase of a refurbishment scheme on its St. Peters estate. This year Leicester is likely to receive a further £800,000 or so from Estate Action towards completing the scheme at St. Peters estate, and other schemes are under consideration.

The Department recognises that poor design, bad layout and environmental drawbacks can all contribute towards unacceptable levels of vandalism and other crime, such as break-ins and burglaries. The extra resources being provided to local authorities through Estate Action are thus enabling them to take effective measures to improve the dwellings and their physical surroundings. Nationally, £50 million was made available in 1986–87, and £75 million in the current year, and we have increased Estate Action's budget to £140 million next year.

On high-rise blocks some of the most effective ways of eliminating vandalism and break-ins have been the introduction of door-porters, or concierges. By having someone in charge of who enters the block the basic cause of insecurity is dealt with. By putting someone on the door, it is possible to deter vandals and, at the same time, increase the sense of security for residents, who know that they will be able to contact someone in case of emergency.

Key measures being promoted by Estate Action involve putting housing managers back on to the estate, rather than have them located in remote town hall offices. This not only helps to improve the responsiveness and delivery of services on the estate, but having responsible local authority officers on the spot serves to deter vandalism by increasing "human presence" on the estate.

We must be careful to guard against developing a siege mentality. It would be counter-productive to concentrate solely on making individual dwellings into fortresses and leaving the outside areas and approaches to estates unsafe. All the evidence shows that it is the risk of detection which is most crucial in deterring vandals and, therefore, we must take measures which make people feel secure in walking to and from their homes and make the would-be vandal feel uncomfortable. Things such as better lighting and door entry systems can help in this, but they must be accompanied and backed up by a human presence so that there can be a rapid response if there is a breakdown. Similarly, if litter goes uncollected, or graffiti is not quickly removed, these are signs that encourage the vandal and lead to a spiral of decline and neglect. Effective, estate-based housing management, with active involvement of the tenants, is the key to breaking out of this downward spiral.

Community refurbishment schemes are another type of initiative which Estate Action is currently promoting to tackle problems on some of the most vandalised estates in the country and to involve local residents to the full, in the process giving employment to local unemployed people. Under the schemes, environmental improvements are carried out, usually by unemployed people who actually live on the estate. The works carried out typically involve fencing, removal of rubbish and graffiti, tree and shrub planting and tidying up open spaces. If the people who live on the estates carry out the improvements, it helps to secure their continuing support and care afterwards. In these ways we are helping to restore a sense of pride and belonging in local communities which previously felt forgotten and neglected.

As well as remedying the physical deficiencies on council estates, for example, by providing more defensible space and making the housing tougher to break into, Estate Action is seeking to ensure that those benefits prove of lasting benefit and do not themselves become vandalised and ineffective. We are, in other words, building on the lessons of the PEP approach by seeking to ensure that physical works are properly backed up with improved management and that residents are involved as fully as possible at every stage. Increasingly, we want them to take on responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the estates where they live.

Nor are we limiting our financial assistance under the Estate Action programme to inner-city areas and estates. We recognise that some of the worst housing problems can be found on peripheral estates where residents feel cut off, neglected and forgotten. This type of problem estate was highlighted in Estate Action's first annual report for 1985–86 and many peripheral estates have received Estate Action support.

If any local authority has a run down estate and comes up with innovatory proposals, including appropriate management arrangements for tackling its problems, for example, by involving private sector skills and resources, the Department is prepared to consider making extra financial help available under our Estate Action programme.

My Department's inner cities programmes also have an important contribution to make to solving the problems that we are debating tonight. Under the urban programme, Leicester has received a provisional alloca-tion of £5·43 million for this year as against £5·53 million for last year.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe , Broxbourne

I still have much to say in answering the debate.

More generally, under the urban programme last year, the Department of the Environment provided £10·5 million grant to local authorities in support of 378 projects aimed at combating crime, for victim support, as help for ex-offenders and for preventing drug abuse.

Photo of Mr Greville Janner Mr Greville Janner , Leicester West

What proportion, if any, of the money that the Minister says is going to Leicester is for the outer city estates, which is what we are discussing tonight?

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe , Broxbourne

I spoke of the importance of help going to the peripheral estates. The hon. and learned Gentleman obviously did not hear what I said about that. When he reads my remarks in the Official Report, he will see that I covered that point. I said that if any local authority with a run down estate came up with innovatory proposals, my Department would be prepared to consider making extra financial help available under the Estate Action programme.

A great deal of financial assistance is, therefore, being provided by the Department to help local authorities take effective action to combat vandalism and anti-social behaviour in general, and this is being backed up with advice and research.

I mentioned earlier the study we are sponsoring with the Home Office on the effect of the PEP approach to crime. The Department of the Environment has been working with the National House Building Council to publish guidance on security design for new homes. An information sheet on secure layouts for new housing has recently been published.

The Department of the Environment is also preparing a handbook on estate improvement, for publication next year, which will include a section on security. PEP's guide to estate-based management, which was published earlier this year, includes advice on tackling crime and vandalism.

I hope it is clear to hon. Members that the Government are fully seized of the urgency and seriousness of the problems caused by vandalism on housing estates. We are taking considered and carefully targeted action to deal with the problems and are making available to the police and local authorities the extra resources they need to take effective action. We are disseminating the lessons learnt from pioneering projects and research so that others can benefit from them.

If Leicester or any other authority has innovatory proposals for tackling crime and vadalism on its housing estates, we would be keen to consider them for support under the initiatives that I have outlined tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes past Twelve o'clock.