One of the complaints about living in Norbury raised at public meetings is the incidence of people drinking on the streets and in the two local parks, and the resultant litter and in some places urination. On Saturday 21 March the Scotts Estate Residents Association is organising a clean-up of Norbury Hall Park. Apart from continually repeating clean-up exercises, what can be done to reduce the problem?
It is of course all too easy to say that all those drinking in the streets and parks are Poles and other East Europeans. This may be the case in Norbury but elsewhere it is also a range of British people whose lives have fallen apart, especially ex-servicemen. Street drinking including bad behaviour spilling out from pubs, bars and clubs, affects many town centres. The Brits abroad in holiday resorts have a terrible reputation for drinking. The problem in Britain was made worse with the relaxation of the restrictions on the sale of alcohol, and the introduction of cheap deals, and the lack of local planning controls enabling local auhorities to limit the number of premises selling alcohol.
A punitive approach is the normal response all over the country with the use of ASBOs and alcohol free zones. Creating an area where street drinking is banned may seem a good solution, but it can be difficult to enforce given the size of the area and shortage of people to do so on the ground whether Council staff or police officers. Its much easier to do in concentrated Town Centres. All it may do, however, is to push the problem into neighbouring areas. That is what happened back in the 1980s when action was taken to reduce kerb-crawling in Streatham.
There are also other implications that need to be thought through. If an area or whole Borough ban is implemented (inc. confiscating unopened bottles and cans) will groups of people having a picnic with drinks in one of the parks have their’s confiscated? If someone is walking through a park with some bottles or cans to take home and sits on a park bench will they have their’s confiscated?
Which brings me back to a key question? What is the problem? Is it the drinking? Is it abusive behaviour associated with excessive drinking? Is it the urination? Is it noise? Is it litter? Or is it all of these added to wider social frustrations about the area people live in running down and seeking to blame particular minority groups for it, from the East Europeans to Asians because of their duplication of shops and goods and trade waste on the streets? If it is abusive behaviour and litter perhaps the issue should be addressed by tackling them and not the fact that people are drinking? Can they not already be dealt with via being drunk and disorderly?
The approach in Hackney has been to make the whole Borough an area, with an emphasis on assisting people to get help if they have a serious drink problem: http://news.hackney.gov.uk/90-drop-in-street-drinking-related-anti-social-behaviour. A different approach has been taken in Kilburn in partnership with the shops selling drink: www.met.police.uk/saferneighbourhoods/docs/09jan.pdf.
A 2007 Joseph Rowntree research report reviewing different local authority area approaches is worth reading: www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/2034-enforcement-street-users.pdf.
So I thought if the problem with street drinking is mainly among East Europeans and Poles, let me chat with two of the Poles who run the Jehovah’s Witness display at Norbury Station. I asked them whether they could talk to their fellow countrymen about drinking out of doors and leaving litter because their behaviour is contributing not only to messy streets and parks but to the development of unhealthy hostility. They told me that their compatriots do not like to talk to them because they are JWs.
If we are to be able to communicate with those involved in drinking on the street and in the parks do we not need to do so with the help of their compatriots. How can we attract Poles and other East Europeans in the area to become members of the four Residents Associations, and perhaps encourage them to set up their own Norbury group so they can support each other with their own particular needs?
How many of them attend local Churches, especially in the case of Poles, the Catholic Churches, enabling the four Norbury Residents Associations to start an approach through the priests? Can we reach those who are parents through local schools and Parent Teachers Associations? The Scots Estate Residents Association are trying to involve the 'Polish' community in the clean up of Norbury Hall Park on 21 June, and have produced posters in Polish & English promoting this event.
Can leaflets in Polish also be produced to hand to some of the key shopkeepers selling drink especially the Polish shops asking people not to drink on the street or in the parks, and if they do to ensure they put their cans in bins or take them home to put in their own recycling bins where they live?
It is time we had a considered discussion about a positive strategy to deal with the problem. Should the RAs set up a joint working party which would also involve one of the local Councillors, a police officer, a Council enforcement officer and representatives of relevant local churches? A preliminary meeting will take place to discuss this in July.