In recent months I have received a lot of case work from residents concerned about various forms of illegal behaviour in and around Tooting High Street. As ever, I have been determined to get to the root cause of the problem and develop some solutions.
There is a lot to say on this topic, but by way of a quick summary:
- Traders encroaching on the pavement: this is a major safety issue as pedestrians are forced into the road to get round some of the obstructions; I have arranged two enforcement visits by the authorities and I’m pleased to see that many of the offenders have moved back
- Tooting ward panels: there is a lack of transparency and accountability for community policing in the ward, so I have secured a commitment from our most senior policemen to change personnel and the structure of the panels to make them effective once more
- Dispersal orders: the police will look to implement these to target persistent loiterers on the high street and move them on before they cause an incident.
More detail is provided on each of these topics below, but taken together they will help make Tooting High Street a better place for everyone who uses it to shop, work or travel through.
Encroachment by traders onto high street pavements has been a perennial problem, but recently it has reached dangerous extremes in Tooting, with pedestrians forced into the road to navigate round crates of fruit and veg. To tackle this, I wrote to the authorities at Transport for London (TfL) and the Council requesting enforcement action and a joint visit to Tooting High Street was subsequently arranged for 28th August.
I attended myself and a dozen or so traders were caught encroaching onto the pavement and given final written warnings by TfL. As you may have noticed, many of the traders have subsequently pulled back to their permitted area and pedestrians are unencumbered.
However, a few traders continue to encroach and TfL and the Council have confirmed to me that a further spot-check enforcement session will soon take place, with fines issued to the remaining offenders. The vast majority of shop-owners in Tooting do play by the rules so it’s really important that we clamp down on the few who don’t.
Longer-term I believe we need a better enforcement solution to permanently resolve this issue and I am in dialogue with the authorities discussing possible options.
Safer Neighbourhood Policing in Tooting Ward
Many residents have written to me concerned about crime and anti-social behaviour (ASB) in Tooting ward, in and around the high street, including fly-tipping, anti-social drinking and traffic offences. There is a feeling that these problems are not being tackled as effectively as they could be by the police and that no one seems accountable for the issues.
Each of the 7 wards in our constituency has a regular Safer Neighbourhood Team panel meeting where local residents and the police meet to discuss crime and ASB, set priorities for community policing and monitor results. I chair the Bedford Ward panel and our group works very well – for instance, in the past year we have worked together to reprimand a regular burglar targeting the Ritherdon Road shops, tackled ASB in the Berringer Square estate and reduced break-ins on Heritage Park.
There is also an 8th SNT panel meeting for Tooting Town Centre itself, since high streets will usually attract more problems than residential roads and so extra focus is needed.
However, on further investigation I have discovered a couple of problems with the set up in the Tooting and Town Centre panels:
1. Tooting Ward SNT panel meets infrequently, in an inaccessible location, and is very poorly attended
2. There is no coordination between the Town Centre and Tooting ward groups, even though their areas overlap.
As a result, the link between local residents and community policing has been broken, and there is no sense of urgency or accountability to tackle local crime.
Therefore I have met separately with the Borough Police Commander (the top policeman in Wandsworth) and the new Tooting Inspector, Barrie Capper, and secured a commitment to address the Tooting issues. Inspector Capper is looking to change the meeting place for the ward panels, to work with myself and other local volunteers to recruit new members, and ensure representation from Town Centre police on the Tooting ward panel. If you would like to volunteer to sit on your local SNT ward panel, please let me know.
By taking this issue, we can set clear priorities for the police, work with them to tackle the issues and hold them to account for performance. Over time this will help reduce crime and ASB in our neighbourhood.
Other problems on the high street
One of the things I love about living in Tooting is a trip down our colourful and diverse high street. But studies have shown that it is under-used by local residents and one of the reasons for this is a feeling that it does not feel as safe as it could be, with various types of anti-social behaviour taking place.
The action plan outlined above for Tooting SNT teams will help in themselves, but additionally, Inspector Capper is planning to introduce use dispersal orders in the most problematic parts of the Town Centre. He has used these orders to great effect in other parts of London and believes that they will be very effective in targeting loiterers, making them uncomfortable and driving them away before they can commit petty crime or intimidate shoppers. The ASB, Crime and Disorder Act 2014, coming into effect in October, will also help with dispersal where required.
I am very hopeful that these measures will improve our area and as ever I welcome your feedback.