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Vandalism in our Communities - Who Pays the Price?

Thursday 6 October 2011, 12:57
By John Smith

John Smith, Chairman of Wincanton Businesses Together and generally a very pleasant fellow.I'm an ordinary every day bloke with everyday challenges. I care about my community but I get fed up of listening to, and reading such negative headlines and stories about our local towns. With a positive attitude we will accomplish much more and make a huge difference in our communities.

OK, I fell at the first hurdle by using a very negative title. But please bear with me. Vandalism has created the headlines in all the media. We have been rudely awakened to face the fact that there is a very small sector of our nation that has problems with behaviour and attitude to life in general. We all witnessed those harrowing images of mindless vandalism and looting in major towns and cities throughout the UK.

Sadly Wincanton, Castle Cary, and Bruton are not immune from this sickness. Living and working in Wincanton for over 30 years, I can only speak about known incidents here, but I am sure that what I say will resonate in other towns. Being involved with the business community, I have become aware of an on-going issue of mindless vandalism in and around the town centre. When it happens we all react with anger and frustration. The public perception is that the people who commit these atrocious crimes get away with it. We tend to take our frustrations out on our local police officers. They are an easy target.

But there is more to this than we think. In every incident there is collateral damage, and it is this aftermath that can cause far greater damage to both the owner of the premises and our community. For instance:

Repairs:
Maxine Davis' smashed windowWho pays for the repairs to the property? That's OK it's only replacing a (shop/office/home) window. Did you know that the average High Street window will cost circa £1000 to replace? In the case of local hairdresser Maxine Davis where two windows were damaged that means a bill in excess of £2000.

No problem you say. Her insurance company will cover the damage and business as usual. Hold that thought. What happens if her windows are damaged on a regular basis? That means her insurance company paying the bill twice, or even three times. Where does it stop? The answer is simple. It stops when her insurance company decides that she is no longer a safe insurance risk. When that point is reached she will not be able to insure her premises.

I pick on Maxine as her situation is very current. But I know that other traders in Wincanton have also suffered in this way and the end result for many of our traders is at the very least greatly increased insurance premiums, or in extreme cases, being refused insurance because they have claimed too often. How many businesses would our High Streets lose if they have to self-insure?

Protection:
How can our traders protect themselves from this vandalism? They fit protective shutters. It's that easy.

Wrong! Living in Wincanton, Castle Cary and Bruton areas you find a high percentage of businesses operate from listed buildings. It means that you need to apply for planning permission to install shutters to protect your windows from vandalism.

OK that seems fair. But how many of those applications have ever been passed? It would seem not very many. Looking round Wincanton I can't see any protective shutters. Please correct me if I am wrong. In fact I would like to hear from everyone in Wincanton, Castle Cary, and Bruton if you have suffered this kind of mindless vandalism. I believe that before the issues can be addressed in a positive way, we need first to define the size of the problem.

Our District Council is responsible for accepting or rejecting planning applications. The public perception is that our planners are on a different planet with no real understanding of the real facts. The perception is that they stick rigidly to the rules with no flexibility in the outworking of those rules. In this current issue I have been corresponding with the relevant people at District Council and have been advised that they are required to protect the integrity of our High Street's listed premises, and to ensure that visitors to our High Street enjoy this experience, even in the evenings.
Ok this article is still not sounding positive in any sense. Can this negative situation have any sort of positive outcome?

I respect and agree totally with SSDC planners (indeed all planners) that it's vital that we do our best to maintain the planning integrity of our High Streets.

However, even in the most senior law courts in this nation, the judges have the ability to administer the law with a degree of flexibility in the sentence given.

Surely our planners can also bring flexibility to their work when dealing with vandalism to listed buildings? If businesses can no longer afford to trade in our towns because they can't get reasonable insurance, what is the point? Businesses will move elsewhere and High Streets with a high percentage of listed buildings will slowly, but surely become deserted, with the only option being to change to residential (subject to planning permission). Sorry I couldn't resist that one.

For our planners not to address these issues in a sensible and flexible way is almost as bad as the vandals themselves. It would be...

Mindless
Destructive
Costly
Morally Bankrupt

It's in the interest of all High Street businesses in all three communities to share their experiences so that we can create a factual picture. Armed with this information, and the willingness of the planners, I believe that this sad and negative side to community life can be turned around. So please do your bit to help. Contact me at with details of your experiences:

When did your premises get vandalised? How many times have you suffered vandalism?
Describe the damage.
Were the police informed?
Did your insurance company cover you?
Have you been refused insurance?

John Smith
Chairman, Wincanton Businesses Together




Comments

Victor Meldrew
Posts: 1
Comment
Re: Vandalism in our Communities - Who Pays the Price?
Reply #1 on : Fri October 14, 2011, 14:37:08
I was told today, Friday, this persons windows in the High Street had been broken but when reporting that it was not a crime! But the Town Council has been told that the more reports of crime/vandalism are filed the better chance of getting the police that we once had.I remember when we had a Sgt who was SEEN, a constable also living at the North St station, one lodging in town ,and one in Bayford. That does not incude the ones at Bruton or Templecombe/Henstridge nor the station in Castle Cary. Now we have problems with migrant workers, added to the allegations that we are getting the dregs from other areas, we need a definitive police presence. I have no problem with our current PC and PCSO, both do a very good job, but there is only so much they can do. Perhaps the Sgt appearing, as well as the Inspector showing her face would go a small way to redressing the (percieved?) problems with the policing, or lack of, in Wincanton.

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