Anti-social and criminal behaviour are the reasons why Hastings Borough Council’s cabinet members unanimously agreed a plan last night that will see three alleyways in the town closed off.
The plan for ‘gating’ of Laser Lane and Valentines Passage, both in central St Leonards and of an unnamed cut through running from Havelock Road to Priory Square was approved unanimously by cabinet members.
Each of the alleyways has been beset by effectively the same problems. A report presented by Mike Hepworth, HBC’s Assistant Director, Environment and Place explained: “The council received some extremely compelling feedback from people living and working in the immediate vicinity of the three alleys subject to the gating proposals. Compelling because these are the people whose quality of life is being heavily negatively impacted by the ongoing anti-social behaviour and criminality taking place in the alleys.”
Valentine’s Passage runs between North Street and Aldergate Terrace, councillors heard the main issues within the alleyway are:
- Drug dealing – local people report there are sometimes ‘literally crowds of people in the alleyway waiting for a dealer to arrive’.
- Drug taking and disposal of sharps in the alleyway.
- Urination and defecation in the alleyway by humans.
- Street drinking.
- Arson (two major fire incidents in the alleyway in recent years)
- Fly tipping.
- Dog fouling.
One local resident had told the council: “This… leaves us with an almost constant sense of fear and dread. Whenever we hear people in the passageway we find ourselves stopping what we are doing to wait for the people to pass (or not, as is often the case).
“We are always alert to the slightest sounds, at all times of the day and night.”
At Laser Lane councillors heard had a ‘long chequered history of antu social behaviour’ with one nearby resident telling HBC: “We would be delighted if it was closed off to the public.
“It would be a relief to me not to see any more rubbish dumped on my
doorstep, and more importantly for a sense of security.
“Thank you… for inviting us to comment on the council’s proposal on how to resolve the ongoing antisocial behaviour which includes persistent littering, fly-tipping, etc. As you are aware we are very much in
support of the proposed actions.”
In Havelock Road the owners of the Brass Monkey have offered to manage the gates which are already in place, cabinet member heard. The alley runs through to Priory Square, outside what had been the University of Brighton building.
Councillors heard that due to the nature of the location there had been far less public feedback. What had bee received included this: “The alleyway has always been a hot spot for abuse, just due to its geography, however in recent years this has greatly escalated.
“It has been a daily occurrence to have to clean up all manner of bodily fluids, drug paraphernalia, litter and fly-tipped items.
“The area becomes a haven for ne’er-do-wells throughout the day, evening
and into the early hours of the morning.
“One of my biggest worries is that someone is going to be seriously injured.
“The activities that have taken place in the alleyway have caused a lot of
sleepless nights for us.
“Pedestrians will be able to use the access next to Saga and the new DWP
building to access Havelock Road, this is wider and far better lit, it also presents a far nicer entrance to the town centre.”
East Sussex County Council’s (ESCC) public rights of way officer urged caution saying that HBC should be cautious of setting an ‘untenable precedent’ that might result in other paths being closed off to the public.
ESCC also raised concerns about both councils’ responsibilities for maintaining the paths, even when closed off to all but a handful of users.
In a letter to the council, the rights of way officer said: “For all of these reasons, it would be our preference to see a less restrictive approach attempted.
“We would suggest, initially at least, that closure of the paths at night with access maintained during defined daytime hours should be attempted.
“In conjunction with police patrols and measures to assist in dealing with daytime offending, such as restrictions to gatherings, it must be at least a reasonable possibility that a better result for the community could be achieved.”
Other groups to express a similar point of view included The Ramblers Association, the Greenway Trust, Living Streets andThe Open Spaces Society.
Julia Hilton of Living Streets said at the weekend: “…they certainly shouldn’t be shut down without wide consultation of all local walking groups, none of whom were informed.
“These proposed closures set a really bad precedent for a town full of historic alleyways, twittens and ‘catcreeps’ – a unique Hastings term.
“In 2018 Old Hastings won a Ramblers award for Best Walking Neighbourhood. Hastings should be building and celebrating on that not closing these old pedestrian routes down. I understand that when not well managed they can become a problem for fly tipping etc but shutting them down just makes for a festering blocked artery. What needs to happen is a clearing out and engagement with residents who back on to the alley.
“As we come out of lockdown and people have been enjoying their local neighbourhood how about having some community alley clean up days to show these areas some love?
“The door knocking carried out by the community organising team highlighted how many people wanted to see more green spaces in the town. Why not tap in to that urge instead of this very negative response?”
Councillor Paul Barnett said the council had listened to both sides of the argument and worked hard to find a balance: “We have listened and reacted to the many quite graphic concerns rasied by residents,” he said.
Councillor Judy Rogers said that since the University of Brighton had closed its building Priory Square had become, “somewhere to hang out and do drugs.”
In confirming that the decision to ‘gate’ the alleyways had been passed unanimously by cabinet members Council Leader Kim Forward stressed that the decision had, ‘not been taken lightly’.
What else could the borough council have done? How would you like to see anti-social behaviour dealt with in the town centre? Tell us in the comment section below.