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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 08:49 GMT
Why Northampton?
By Paula Dear and Finlo Rohrer
BBC News, in Northampton

Map of Northampton

As the government plans a national tour to promote its Respect Agenda, published last month, the BBC News website is taking a snapshot of the issues in one English town in a week-long series.

It would be cruel to dub Northampton as Everytown UK, but in many areas of life it is statistically average.

In factors such as ethnic make-up, faith groups, average earnings and numbers of council house tenants, the figures are close to those for England and Wales as a whole.

Although the area has suffered from the decline of its once-renowned shoe manufacturing industry, it still enjoys relatively low unemployment - currently at 3.2% compared with 4.8% across England, Scotland and Wales.

Northampton, which has a population of around 200,000, does contain deprived areas, ranking 135th on a scale where one is the most deprived and 354 the least.

It is the kind of ordinary place with ordinary problems which will be the crucible of Tony Blair's Respect Agenda

As in many towns, much of the deprivation is on housing estates, many built as the town rapidly expanded in the 1970s to accommodate London overspill.

Its councils and police force have had more than their fair share of criticism.

Northampton Borough Council has been dubbed the "poorest of the poor" by Local Government Minister Phil Woolas.

1787: Thousands watch as the notorious Culworth gang are publicly executed for robberies
1812: Prime Minister Spencer Perceval (Northampton's MP) is shot dead in House of Commons lobby
1874: Riot in town is provoked by election campaign involving radical atheist Charles Bradlaugh
1898: Local motor car pioneer Joseph Grose incurs the first speeding fine, of 1, for travelling at 15-16mph
1952: Controversial "Woman with Fish" statue has to be moved after repeated vandalism
Source: www.northampton.org.uk

The police have been castigated for their poor performance, and the county council is currently under fire for cutting services.

But all are resolute in their drive to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Residents concerns are typically of groups of youths hanging around and causing a nuisance, graffiti and vandalism, the prevalence of drug use, and a feeling of lack of security.

In Northampton, crime and anti-social behaviour partnerships (Caspars) have targeted particular areas with measures to improve safety and reduce crime, and the fear of crime.

A neighbourhood warden scheme is currently being expanded, and initiatives such as dispersal orders have had some success in trouble hot spots, albeit temporarily.

In illustrating what real people's views and experiences were, the aim was not to scour the country in search of the worst cases of anti-social behaviour and disrespect, but to find an 'average' town that would speak for most people's experiences.

Northampton is not a London, a Manchester or a Newcastle, or a sleepy commuter town. It is the kind of ordinary place with ordinary problems which will be the crucible of Tony Blair's Respect Agenda.

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