CAMPAIGN: We must reclaim our Leeds communities from the plague of grime and anti-social crime

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The Yorkshire Evening Post today calls on Leeds residents to unite in civic pride - and reclaim our communities from those who blight them with grime and anti-social crime.

Environmental teams in the city deal with tens of thousands of complaints and call-outs to tackle the plague of flytipping, dog fouling, littering, anti-social behaviour and noise nuisance.

Amy Dickinson, Environment Action Officer at Leeds City Council,  with rubbish dumped in a bin area. Picture: James Hardisty

Amy Dickinson, Environment Action Officer at Leeds City Council, with rubbish dumped in a bin area. Picture: James Hardisty

Taxpayers are forking out £8m annually to help clean up our neighbourhoods.

The YEP can reveal Leeds City Council has received nearly 6,000 calls about littering, 13,000 complaints of flytipping and 10,000 call-outs over anti-social behaviour in the past 12 months alone.

And the authority has dealt with nearly 1,000 complaints for dog fouling and a further 7,000 reports of noise nuisance.

City bosses are now taking a no-nonsense stance to combat crime and grime in our communities – and prosecutions are on the increase.

LIFE OF GRIME IS A PLAGUE ON ALL OUR HOUSES

What is a community?

Is it just a row of houses that happened to be built together, inhabited by people who happened to move into those houses?

Or is it the sense of togetherness that those happy coincidences have fostered?

Debates about our collective loss of ‘community’ values often dominate the rhetoric of our decision-makers.

But today, the Yorkshire Evening Post reclaims the debate – and urges readers to reclaim their communities for themselves.

It gives us no pleasure to publish our ‘name and shame’ type list of Leeds’s most blighted neighbourhoods, compiled from detailed statistics we have obtained about the amount of public resources and money that goes into cleaning up after those irresponsible few.

The figures are – on the surface – startling.

In the last year alone, Leeds City Council’s environmental action teams have been called out to 12,940 complaints of flytipping. The number is a three year high. In 2014/15, there were also 5,751 littering complaints; 926 of dog fouling; 9,871 of anti-social behaviour and 7,101 of out-of-hours noise nuisance.

When individual figures for each area of the city – based on council wards – are added together, the communities of Gipton and Harehills are blighted by the most complaints for grime and anti-social crime.

They are followed by City and Hunslet (incorporating the city centre); Chapel Allerton; Burmantofts and Richmond Hill; and Armley.

Completing the 10 worst affected spots are Beeston and Holbeck; Hyde Park and Woodhouse; Middleton Park; Farnley and Wortley; and Kirkstall.

In total, Leeds taxpayers are faced with forking out £8m every year in cleansing our neighbourhoods of entirely avoidable problems.

But now, city bosses have started taking a no-nonsense approach to these issues - and fines and prosecutions are on the rise.

This year, Leeds City Council issued 4,410 fixed penalty notices for littering, and nearly 500 notices of prosecution and fines for flytipping. The numbers of successful prosecutions are also rising. But bosses know that enforcement is only part of the solution.

John Woolmer, environmental and neighbourhoods locality manager for the East North East side of the city which includes Harehills, acknowledges that there is work to be done to change some people’s behaviour and entrenched attitudes.

“We could take the view that we’ll never change behaviours and therefore the council’s role should be just to clean up, so basically the taxpayer of Leeds pays for that,” he says.

“Or we could take the view that that’s not right – which we do at the moment – and say to people ‘you should not be doing this’.

“Our main tool to do that is to take legal action, but it can be a minefield. We have to think about what would be the best intervention to solve the problem – and to stop it happening again.”

The council’s role is a difficult one and, all too often, responsibility for issues on private land becomes the council’s by default, because it’s impossible to apportion individual blame for a particular incident.

The authority is promoting initiatives like regular clean-up action days to try and embed a sense of civic pride.

Mr Woolmer knows change won’t happen overnight. But he is hopeful – especially for the younger generation. He describes one incident where a group of school pupils on a neighbourhood walkabout tackled a small business owner as he flytipped rubbish in front of them.

“The problems are primarily not caused by children, they are usually caused by grown ups,” he adds.

“It’s about messages at home - like bags of nappies thrown out on the street and overflowing bin yards.”

>See tomorrow’s Yorkshire Evening Post for more on how council bosses are pledging to work with communities.