Welwyn Hatfield councillors consider scrutiny of youth anti-social behaviour in Welwyn Garden City

McDonalds, Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOO

McDonalds, Welwyn Garden City. Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

Young people who hang around the centre of Welwyn Garden City can travel there from as far away as London, councillors have been told.

The Howard Centre. Picture: DANNY LOO

The Howard Centre. Picture: DANNY LOO - Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO

Fast food outlets, free wi-fi, good lighting and good transport links are said to be part of the attraction of the town for young people.

The distance they are willing to travel is one of the surprising findings of a year-long scrutiny into ‘youth anti-social behaviour’, by councillors from Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council.

The report stresses that the level of anti-social behaviour by young people across the Welwyn Hatfield area is “very low”, although it finds it is greater prevalence around Welwyn Garden City.

It says perpetrators of anti-social behaviour – ‘albeit low in numbers’ – came from across the borough, and even beyond.

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These are the findings of a year-long scrutiny of youth anti-social behaviour, reported to a meeting of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, July 29.

Councillors on the scrutiny sub-committee started to look at youth anti-social behaviour across the borough, last year.

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As part of the project councillors wanted to identify hotspots of anti-social behaviour – and to see if there was a connection between incidents of anti-social behaviour and the provision of youth activities.

They also wanted to examine the provision of activities provided in Hatfield, compared to those offered in Welwyn Garden City.

According to the report, members of the youth council were ‘enthusiastic’ about the provision of activities in the area, but said they could be expensive and difficult to afford – especially if there was more than one young person in a family.

Although councillors recognised that statutory services had to focus on the most vulnerable, they found that this could lead to gaps in provision.

Following the meeting Cllr Lynn Chestermann, who chaired the sub-committee, said she hoped the report would be “reassuring” to those who see groups of young people and perceive them to be there to cause trouble.

She said that in practice young people actually gathered near lights and security cameras, because they wanted somewhere safe to meet their friends.

She also stressed that the report found “very low” levels of anti-social behaviour by a tiny proportion of young people, including those from outside the borough.

Going forward the report by the sub-committee recommends that the council reviews the ways it communicates with young people, so they can access information about youth provision.

It suggests additional support for the charitable and voluntary sectors, that provided youth services to a wider group – often at a lower cost.

It also supports the use of funds to modernise the Wheels Park, at King George V park.

The report suggests that £50,000 earmarked for youth services – which may not have been fully spent because of COVID-19 – should be carried forward to next year.

Further recommendations were added at the meeting which called on the borough council to lobby the county council with regard to provision for young people in Welwyn Hatfield.

At the meeting Liberal Democrat Cllr Paul Zuckowskyj said the work seemed to be very “broad brush”. He added it had been a useful start but that there needed to be something more detailed and with more depth.

Labour Cllr Glyn Hayes pointed to the role of McDonald’s as a ‘meeting place’ for young people, and suggested other provisions for young people needed to be marketed as ‘meeting places’ too.

“We have to get a grasp of how we market these things to our young people,” he said.

Cllr Malcolm Cowan – leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition on the council – pointed to previous research that had highlighted the lack of free activities for young people.

He said: “There clearly are people who are not willing or not able to pay for their youth activities and we need to be providing them if we want to divert them away from anti-social behaviour.”

As part of the study, councillors had set up a meeting with residents who had been victim to anti-social behaviour, however it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recommendations – which were unanimously backed by the overview and scrutiny committee – will now be passed to the council’s cabinet for further consideration on September 8.

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