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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 16:16 GMT
Test bed for the Blunkett plan
by Simon Page
BBC News Online Birmingham

Kingstanding Leisure Centre
Kingstanding suffers from a lack of public amenities
The Kingstanding suburb of Birmingham may be just what the Home Secretary David Blunkett was thinking about when he said: "Anti-social behaviour blights people's lives, destroys families and ruins communities."

Mr Blunkett made his comment when announcing on-the-spot fines will be extended to people as young as 16 in a move to outlaw anti-social behaviour.

West Midlands Police have piloted the scheme and issued 1,500 fines in the past six months, covering such crimes as harassment, abusive behaviour and drunkenness.

The police have welcomed the new powers, but questions still remain about their effectiveness in making a difference to the quality of life for people affected by crime.

Kingstanding is an area of higher than average unemployment and crime, made up of mainly social housing much of which has been bought by former tenants.

A stroll around the place brings home some of the problems residents face. Graffiti covers street signs, walls and bus shelters. The tiny shopping centre has seen better days and fails to attract major high street names.

'Nicked, broken and graffitied'

Aside from the local leisure centre, there is a lack of obvious public amenities and groups of teenagers walk the streets both during the day and especially at night.

Residents do not exactly live in fear, but they are reluctant to put their names to condemnation of the less savoury activities of their neighbours.

Kingstanding, Birmingham
Graffiti is a very visible problem in the area
"Leave anything for too long round here and it'll get nicked, broken or graffitied," one woman told BBC News Online. "It's frightening round here at night because there's so many gangs wandering the streets. You just don't feel safe."

The solutions offered are equally predictable: "The police have got to lock them up. If they want to fine them, that's all well and good but who'll pay the fine and they'll still be out on the streets."

What is perhaps more surprising is how closely the standard public and political responses are mirrored by the teenagers themselves.

Dawn Roberts works with young people and youth offenders in Birmingham. She has conducted research with 390 secondary school pupils on the subject of anti-social behaviour.

Fighting rival estates

She said: "Young people are as concerned as adults about this problem. The main victims of anti-social behaviour are 16 to 24-year-olds and young students.

"Their solutions included giving out fines, providing diversionary activities and offering help with counselling and drug and alcohol problems.

A scheme in south Birmingham where 20 young people agreed "acceptable behaviour contracts" enjoyed a high level of success.
Kingstanding Circle
The shopping area of Kingstanding does not attract big name stores

Ms Roberts said: "The behaviour of 18 of them improved enormously. Young people need boundaries but they also need help.

"No one is saying that people who offend shouldn't be punished and the teenagers themselves agree with that. They want to be safe on the streets too."

For the people of Kingstanding, safety remains a prime concern. Another resident remained anonymous but said: "You can see there's not much going on here for youths.

"They've got the swimming pool or the pub if they can get in. Otherwise they're on the street, probably up to no good or they're fighting with the Pheasey (a rival estate)."

The truth remains there are much worse places than Kingstanding, but if David Blunkett is to succeed in his aim of stamping out the "yobbish minority", it is here where evidence of success will need to be seen.




SEE ALSO:
Blunkett targets yob culture
12 Mar 03 |  Politics
Begging 'to be outlawed'
07 Mar 03 |  UK
Crackdown on begging
30 Aug 02 |  England
Police praise 'spot fine' trial
16 Sep 02 |  England


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