Wokingham town council spends £1,000 on private security to manage anti-social behaviour

One of the trees uprooted in Howard Palmer Gardens earlier this summer

EXPENSIVE bars are pricing young people out and on to the streets, said the leader of Wokingham Town Council.

Cllr Imogen Shepherd-DuBey said it’s mostly “economic reasons” that lead to young adults drinking and socialising in council parks late at night.

It comes after the town council hired private security to patrol Wokingham on Friday and Saturday evenings during August.

The decision, which saw two security guards on duty from 6pm until 2am, was made due to a lack of police presence in the town, an ongoing issue since the police station closed in 2015.

“Police say it’s just low level anti-social behaviour but it has quite an effect on the people who live here,” said Cllr Shepherd-DuBey.

“Police have had their budget cut quite considerably and Wokingham has been forced into a situation of having to hire our own security.”

The scheme, which cost approximately £1,000, has now stopped. But security may be reinstated before Christmas.

“[Anti-social behaviour] is very seasonal,” added Cllr Shepherd-DuBey. “It’s calmed down now that the weather is changing, but there’s usually another surge just before Christmas.”

She said the biggest incident this summer was when a Toyota Aygo was caught spinning doughnuts in Howard Palmer Gardens, next to Cockpit Path Car Park.

Wokingham Town Council clerk Jan Nowecki said the biggest benefit to the scheme was ensuring that residents’ concerns were heard.

She said: “Groups were spoken to by security and police also followed through with those that were present.

“Following the first incident of a car on Howard Palmer Gardens, there was no repetition. A moped was impounded by the police on another weekend and a youth taken into custody I believe.”

Ms Nowecki added: “The town council better secured the park and there will be further work to ensure this is made more permanent.

“We are grateful to borough council highways contractors who very quickly supported us, by bringing small concrete bollards to site.

“A stronger gate is now being installed together with drop down barriers and the hedge alongside the car park side of the park is to be cut back to offer better visibility.”

But the majority of anti-social behaviour has been drinking or drug taking in public parks, said Cllr Shepherd-DuBey.

This, she said, could be due to the higher prices in bars across the town.

“The culture of our bars has changed in the town,” she said.

“I’m not sure what the best option is for Wokingham. Young people are drinking at home before they go out — it’s an economic decision.”

Chief inspector Andy Cranidge, the deputy local policing area commander for Bracknell and Wokingham, said the summer bout of antisocial behaviour was worsened by the closure of other activities.

“Over the summer we have seen an increase in anti-social behaviour in many of our open spaces and parks across the Wokingham area as well as the Thames Valley area as a whole,” he said.

“We would normally expect to see an increase over the summer period, however this has been augmented by the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, including the earlier closing of schools and the closure of many other diversionary activities for younger members of the community.

“The local neighbourhood team have worked with partners, including the Wokingham Borough and Wokingham Town councils to address these issues. This has included increasing patrols in the affected area, dispersal orders being put in place and council officers and their agents increasing their presence in these locations.”

Mr Cranidge said the neighbourhood police teams have organised Have Your Say meetings to identify the specific concerns of the community and help resolve any issues.

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