I’ve been busy this week helping local residents with a petition they have raised complaining about skateboarders making their lives a misery. This got me thinking about the council and its reaction to issues around young people in general. In my role as Cabinet member for Young People in the past and indeed my work around the Youth Area in the city centre, I notice whenever these kind of issues come up the council revert to type. Both skateboarding and the Youth Area are issues driven by people complaining about young people which end up being issues about what we can do for them rather than the original complainants with their legitimate concerns.
Local residents approached me some weeks ago because they were worried about the noise skateboarders were making right outside their properties until all hours. If you’ve ever heard skateboards crashing and banging in confined areas you will appreciate the racket. Even in the recent hot weather, windows have had to be closed just to hear the telly or get some sleep. This isn’t just background noise from city centre living but serious industrial level clamour causing psychological damage to people just trying to get on with their lives.
To help, I set up a meeting between residents, the police, community safety officers from the Council and Youth Workers. We even got two skateboarders to attend. The meeting went well and everyone listened to each other with respect and courtesy. It was agreed something needed to be done. Residents wanted some peace and skaters wanted somewhere to go. So far so good. Engagement between skateboarders and Youth workers took place with plans for a new skate park discussed. Ambitious yes but doable in time. This was looking good!
Meanwhile, residents continued to suffer. The problem had not gone away. As ever, a small minority were causing the problem and not listening. I suggested a petition to help get a coordinated response to the issue designed to help the residents with the immediate problem. It then seems to be at this point where the council psyche kicks in. An officer phoned me up and said to me that this petition would have to go to the cabinet member responsible for sport. Why I asked? It’s about skateboarding she said. No, it’s about nuisance, anti-social behaviour, it needs a robust response I countered. Read the petition which says: We the undersigned call on Coventry City Council to coordinate action together with the police to prevent skateboarders causing distress, nuisance and danger both to residents and passers-by. We are tired both of the noise and the behaviour of some individuals. Pretty clear don’t you think?
Anyway, I sorted it out so it will be dealt with appropriately. I just thought it was odd the first thought was the kids. No! The first thought should be the residents. They have reported being sworn at and intimidated to the point they want their anonymity protected. Shops in the area when asking to move the kids on because they had been asked to by the police because of complaints, blamed the residents, often pointing them in the direction of the area they live! What a typical and I hate to say this, Coventry attitude. These aren’t under tens but often quite robust older teenagers and young men who know precisely the upset they are causing.
Yes, we should help and support them and we do. I have done so and will continue to. Sometimes though, I wish kids today would just do what they are bloody well told! I have checked across the country and many local authorities have banned skateboarding in their city centres including Newcastle upon Tyne and Northampton. All I am asking is for it to be prevented from taking place right where people live. There are plenty of places to go and practice. Go there and do it. If they don’t, we should have the power to move them on and stop them instead of wringing our hands in mock concern about their rights. No one has the right to terrorise someone else and we as a council have a duty to protect our citizens from this. We must do this.