A campaign has been launched to ban alcohol in a historic Essex town to tackle ‘appalling’ and ‘disgusting’ antisocial behaviour.
Since lockdown, there have been countless reports of drinking and littering offences around the sea wall of the historic seaside town of Leigh-on-Sea.
MP for Southend West, David Amess, claims that residents have complained of visitors urinating in public and drug dealing in the area, as well as leaving masses of rubbish.
Frustration among locals and visitors has led to a petition being set up to make the sea wall and beach areas of Old Leigh ‘alcohol-free zones’.
The petition to “reclaim” the seaside town has already received over 1,200 signatures, with support from local councillors and residents alike.
However, some businesses in the area have stressed recent antisocial behaviour is an ‘isolated’ incident unlikely to repeat next year, when places most pubs and clubs will have hopefully reopened post-pandemic.
Another pub manager acknowledged the ban could prohibit businesses from continuing their take away drink services, but acknowledges the need for a measure to prevent further issues.
Last week, the petition was submitted to the council by Councillor Carole Mulroney, pushing for a public space protection order against all antisocial behaviour, although it looks unlikely that anything would be enforced until 2021.
What are PSPOs?
Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPO) are measures put in place over an area where there has been a ‘particular nuisance’ to an area, which is having a detrimental effect on the quality of life for those in the local community.
They can ban certain things, or require certain things to be done in attempt to curb these nuisances.
This can include for example, banning the consumption of alcohol in a specific place.
To put these in place, the local authority has to consider two things:
1) Is the behaviour having a detrimental effect, or is likely to have this effect?
2) Are the activities persistent, and therefore making the behaviour unreasonable?
PSPOs can be made to apply to all people, or limited only to certain people and can be restricted to specific times.
They can last no longer than three years but can be renewed.
If you fail to comply with a PSPO, you can face a fine or a fixed penalty notice.
“People buying and selling drugs”
MP for Southend West, Sir David Amess, has described the behaviour in Old Leigh over the past few weeks as ‘appalling’.
“The strength of feeling is such that the petition now has over 1,200 signatures – it is not just a handful of people who want this,” Sir David said.
“They are reasonably asking for the area known as the sea wall and the beach areas to be made alcohol free.
“The reason they ask for this is because during the lockdown, before pubs were allowed to reopen, there were so many occasions where large groups of people gathered along the sea wall and indulged in antisocial behaviour.
“Litter was left everywhere and it was not just socially drinking, this was getting out of hand.
“It was also people buying and selling drugs and disgustingly, using public areas as a toilet.”
Mr Amess said that residents of Old Leigh want the area to return to a family-friendly space for people to visit.
At the beginning of July, he joined police on patrol in the seaside town and encountered some of the antisocial behaviour, as well as hearing from residents.
“It does appear to not to be locals indulging in the behaviour, but it is people coming in from outside who have no regard for the people living here.
“Behind those terraced houses are families who are having their lives made hell by all this nonsense.
“They are asking for sensible behaviour and really it is disgusting.
“Seeing public areas used as a toilet – this is appalling. And then there is the serious and sinister issues of buying and selling drugs.”
“This has been very damaging to Old Leigh”
Mr Amess argues that an alcohol ban like a PSPO will not only help curb antisocial behaviour, but he hopes it will also save Old Leigh’s reputation.
“This has been very damaging to Old Leigh,” he said.
“We were once voted the happiest place in the UK and now it has a lot of miserable people as a result of antisocial behaviour.
“We don’t want our reputation such as this sticking to us. We are determined that Southend will become a city and to do that, we need people to feel safe.”
As the country has moved out of lockdown, a number of businesses, such as those in Old Leigh, have started takeaway services with food and drink.
Naturally, any new measure would prevent this from happening.
“I think the takeaway restaurant issue is very different to alcohol and I can’t see an alcohol-free zone restricting businesses,” Mr Amess said.
“I am an optimist and I am rather hoping the restrictions of lockdown will have come to an end – sooner rather than later and people can return to normal.”
Mr Amess added that the alcohol-free zone could be enforced ‘quite comfortably’ by next year.
“It has been pretty horrendous”
Councillor Carole Mulroney for the Leigh Ward said the issues along the seafront seem to have been getting worse over the years.
“I have been coming down there over 25 years and every year it seems to get slightly worse,” she said.
“This year has got a lot worse. It seems on hot days, and not even hot days now, people resort to old Leigh because it is picturesque and peaceful.
“Over lockdown it has been pretty horrendous.
“One Friday night about four or five weeks ago, there were crowds and crowds of young people with no social distancing and no care for the environment or residents down there.
“And the litter down there the following morning was appalling.”
Carole explained how the litter and glass which is often chucked onto the beach then presents itself as either a hazard to those in the water, or to the wildlife as it gets swept out to sea.
She added: “Don’t get me wrong, I’m no spoil sport, I understand people are stir crazy but that excuse is wearing thin. There has to be an end to it.
“When the pubs shut people were bringing booze with them and congregating on the sea wall and an awful lot of those urinate up along the walls near resident’s homes.
“There’s a general annoyance from residents and people who want a peaceful afternoon over a pub lunch and this is there.”
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“I am concerned for residents and the reputation this has”
Carole said there have also recently been issues with large groups of youngsters heading up to Bell Wharf and jumping off into the sea.
“I really want to emphasis that we are right in the middle of cockling season,” she said.
“Our guys are going out to earn their living, it is a finite season and they can only fish so many days a week so it is important that is unhindered.
“But they are going out, doing their fishing and coming back into the bell wharf to unload and of course boats and being abused by kids, even having mud thrown at them while they try to earn their living.
“What the guys are worried about it that someone will get hurt.”
In practice, Carole said the PSPOs would give community safety officers the power to move people on.
Another short-term measure are dispersal orders, which mean the police can disperse groups of two or more where their presence or behaviour could lead to issues.
Carole said she will be heavily pushing for a PSPO in order to return Old Leigh to what it once was.
“I’m really concerned because it is ruining Old Leigh,” she said.
“I am concerned for residents and the reputation this has on Old Leigh and really concerned for the fishing industry.
“Myself and my colleague councillors in Leigh are really going to battle for this.
“We don’t want to stop anyone enjoying themselves but they are risking people’s safety and the wildlife.
“We have bird life down here and seals and all the rubbish gets washed out.
“It’s just going from bad to worse.”
Similarly to Sir David, Carole believes that the measures will not impact businesses in the area.
“If you speak to pubs down there, they don’t want this type of behaviour down there, it affects their reputation,” Carole said.
“The tea room down there was calling me up Sunday afternoon saying they are urinating up the alleyway and my customers in the garden can see that.
“No place should tolerate that.”
Carole will be presenting the petition to Southend Borough Council.
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“It’s what it needs”
Maz Handy is the manager at Ye Olde Smack Inn, one of the pubs in Old Leigh.
“From a personal point of view I think the petition is brilliant, it’s what it needs,” Maz said.
“I have been here for over six years and it has progressively got worse during the lockdown situation.
“Putting that to one side, on a business point of view, it isn’t going to do very well.
“Since we opened, we do quite a lot of take aways now, food and drink, and we obviously have to do them in plastics.
“We do go down and clear them from the beach but from a business point of view it’s not going to be very good.”
In terms of the antisocial behaviour, Maz said they haven’t been affected by the incidents where they are.
“It is more up where the Peterboat is and what goes on down that end,” she added.
“We are oblivious till we get told about it. Down my end we have not seen any more or less than before lockdown.
“The only thing is we had to get get a door man for Friday and Saturday nights when a couple of weekends ago, because we can only have a certain number in, some guy ended up being quite threatening and spat on me.
“It is part and parcel of the job but with the situation with Covid it didn’t sit well with me.
“So we have the door man now on Friday and Saturday nights more for antisocial behaviour but more for a deterrent to hold people back.”
The Ye Olde Smack Inn’s Deliveroo service has been very popular with locals, as well as their take away option.
“People come in and ask for take away and we put a drink in a plastic pint and send them on their way,” she said.
“It has been fairly popular because of the weather with people coming and grabbing drinks. It is not just alcohol of course, it is soft drinks too.”
While Maz said it would not necessarily be ideal to lose out on this, she said it wouldn’t be a big hit.
“If we can’t do it then we can’t do it but we will keep going until we are told not to,” Maz said.
Maz argued that there needs to be more bins along Old Leigh all-year round to help curb the issue.
“I think it is a one off”
For manager Lewis Window, of the Crooked Billet in Old Leigh, he strongly believes the recent issues are a one-off.
“I live in Old Town and during lockdown we had an awful lot of trouble with antisocial behaviour,” he said.
“But since we opened, the Smack and the Mayflower opened, it’s much better.
“We can manage ourselves, we don’t tolerate it on our door step whereas during lockdown there was no police presence.”
Crucially, Lewis thinks that by the time next summer rolls around, these issues will likely be in the past.
“These people can’t go anywhere else, they are 21, 23, they would be in a club rather than drinking from a can down the sea wall,” he said.
“In the next 12 months, by next summer it won’t be a problem, it will be completely different once the clubs reopen.
“This is such a weird situation to be in and from a personal perspective I don’t think this will happen every year, I think it is a one off.”
In business terms, Lewis said they are also very lucky to have great outdoor space that the ban wouldn’t affect them.
“From a business perspective, it’s not really much of an effect on us,” Lewis explained.
“If they do put a drinking ban in place, we have two large pub gardens that won’t be affected in our licensed areas.
“My only question is when it does come up, what will happen in to the Regatta’s weekend and those type of events?”
What can the police do?
Inspector Dave Gardiner, from the Southend Community Policing Team, said: “Old Leigh is a safe part of Southend and our officers regularly patrol there.
“Where we have information which indicates more resources are needed in a certain area then we ensure we have the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
“Where necessary and appropriate we will use the tools we have available to us to deal with any issues, such as dispersal orders.
“We work with our partners, including the local authority, to tackle issues of anti-social behaviour.
“While Old Leigh is not part of a drinking controlled area, we can and do confiscate alcohol from under 18s and deal with disruption when it occurs.
“As a force, Essex Police has invested in recruiting new officers with more than 360 passing out last year, and a proportion of those have come here to the Southend district.
“We continue to invest to recruit more new officers, with another 58 starting their Essex Police journey earlier this month, to ensure we can better protect vulnerable people, support victims, tackle violence, and increase visibility.
“If you have any information about anti-social behaviour happening in your community it’s really important you tell us about it so we can tackle the issue.”
If you have any information please call the police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
To view the petition, you can click here.