The first PACT meeting for Springfield last night was a well-attended and lively affair.
The police had advertised the meeting in local shops and meeting pl;aces, and we had promoted it via our newsletter and our e-newsletter (which I'm in the process of revamping). I guess there were about 20 residents there, of whom 15 lived in either Springfield or Whinfield.
As well as the police and the Haughton West ward councillors (Geoff Walker was there from Haughton East as well) Glenn Caley, one of the Council's Anti-Social Behaviour Officers was there too. He helped answer some inportant questions on how the agencies respond to the problems of disorder in Springfield and more widely.
The PACT agreed that the three priorities for Springfield would be the riding of illegal motorbikes around the ward; problems with anti-social behaviour; and speeding, especially on Thompson Street East and Hutton Avenue.
Some of the difficulties residents talked about weren't new - problems on Springfield Park and along the river go back years. At various times, there has been success in damping down problems, only for them to reappear at a later date. Understandably, there was some cynicism as to whether anything could change now. What was stressed over and over again (and it was really helpful that Bev Hutchinson, the excellent secretary of Whinfield Residents' Association was there) was that it is only when residents report individual incidents that resources will be targetted to address the problem.
So one resident reported regular examples of illegal motorbikes riding up and down Green Lane. The police however, knew nothing about it because no-one had rung in. As Bev pointed out, Whinfield Residents' Association had only managed to get action taken when members had laboriously phoned in each example of a local problem. The point was well-made.
Of great interest was the news that the police are piloting community speeding cameras were being piloted across Darlington, and could be trialled in hot-spots around Whinfield and Springfield. They will be operated by local volunteers, under the supervision of a police officer. That's likely to be introduced in the New Year.
I was also struck by the information relayed by Sgt. Daryl Edmunds about research undertaken with local kids as to their drinking habits; - they were asked whether they drank alcohol?; if their friends did?; and did they feel under any pressure to use alcohol themselves? In fact, the survey showed that a relatively small proportion of young people drank alcohol - a far higher proportion thought their friends did, however, and so young people felt under pressure to use alcohol too.
As a result, the police and members of the council's anti-social behaviour team have been going into schools to tackle these perceptions. Addressing outlets that might still be selling alcohol to young people via the Challenge 21 scheme will play a key role too. Helpfully, the myth that "there's nothing to do" for young people in the area was exploded. This is a really difficult issue, and something fellow Darlington bloggers have been commenting on recently - it's something I intend to return to here very soon.