This meeting was attended by representatives of the local police (only two, the others were off work for unstated reasons); two of the Herne Hill Ward councillors; a couple of representatives of local Herne Hill businesses and Traders Association; and people representing some (but not all) of the different areas/roads of Herne Hill.
Drugs, theft and ASB
The issue that took up most time was drug abuse and antisocial behaviour in and around Station Square, and the associated surge in shoplifting and aggressive begging. It was reported that some businesses had suffered costly opportunistic thefts. The two supermarkets were regularly raided by thieves who carried off bags of goods with total impunity. But even where a security guard was present, it was clear that they had orders not to endanger themselves by trying to physically prevent the shoplifters walking out with the goods.
Those who could observe this happening regularly, and who had learned to recognise the “usual suspects”, were convinced that the shoplifting was mainly designed, not to alleviate hunger or want, but to finance a drug habit. The police and the councillors were well aware of at least two local premises where addicts/thieves and petty dealers congregated to be supplied with and consume drugs. Raids had taken place, but the latest raid did not result in any prosecutions as no evidence could be found. This will be kept under observation and review: further raids might take place, depending on intelligence received.
The police said they were of course willing to attend the scene of any crime if someone called 999, but usually by the time they arrived the perpetrators had disappeared and proper evidence of a crime was often not available.
Persistent begging was on the increase again, with most beggars claiming homelessness as the reason for asking for money. Again, police , traders and the councillors believed that most of the money obtained would be used for drugs. There was therefore talk of encouraging generous passers-by who wanted to help the homeless to donate to an independent homelessness charity rather than direct to the beggars; and there was discussion of having posters to this effect and even some sort of donation site. This will be followed up.
Meanwhile, some people said, the atmosphere around the centre of Herne Hill was more intimidating now, especially at night, than in recent years. There have also been more muggings, often of young people, and committed by heavily disguised people of the same age.
Police presence on the streets
The small team charged with policing the Herne Hill Ward was not numerous enough (taking into account different shifts, holidays, illnesses and the need to be instantly mobile and on call for unforeseen events) to simply patrol the streets in the traditional way. Being in cars made them much more efficient.
This of course reflects the overall depletion of local police teams as a result of austerity budget cuts exacerbated by imperfect police command structures. See the separate note here about the Metropolitan Police and the Baroness Casey Review. This broader issue was not raised at the meeting, but most of us recognized that our conscientious and hard-working local police teams are dangerously over-stretched.
Speeding traffic, especially on Milkwood Road
I emphasised the concern of many residents about the ever present danger of traffic speeding along Milkwood Road and even veering to the wrong side of the central reservations. The fact that this road provided the main access for many people to neighbouring schools was an additional cause of anxiety.
Our councillors were well aware of this problem. There is no instant solution at present. Speed cameras can only be installed and monitored by the police, not by the local authority: and even then, the police will only do this when there have already been accidents and perhaps even fatalities. But there are other measures that can be developed. And Councillor Deepak Sardiwal has just followed up with a very helpful email which I have quoted in full below:
Thank you very much for raising at the Herne Hill and Loughborough Junction Ward Safer Neighbourhood Panel meeting on Thursday the issue of speeding on Milkwood Rd on behalf of Fawnbrake Avenue residents.
Speeding is a criminal offence and all roads controlled by Lambeth council now have a 20mph speed limit, while TfL is rolling out 20mph on some of its roads in the borough. I am aware though of the need to reduce traffic speeds in specific parts of the ward including Milkwood Rd and tackling this issue is a major concern for residents.
As Fawnbrake residents probably know, speeding cannot be directly enforced by Local Authorities. The Council’s ‘enforcement’ takes the form of design measures e.g. traffic calming. In terms of Milkwood Rd, the council has installed a zebra crossing and speed humps to slow racing traffic. The humps are rather diminutive in nature due to the ambulance service on Milkwood Rd and regular speed humps which I would ideally like to see would slow the deployment of emergency vehicles.
At the Panel meeting, the trial started last year by the London Borough of Wandsworth to enforce the speed limit on selected streets in Wandsworth came up. This is a novel interpretation of the legislation by Wandsworth: the relevant highways legislation explicitly precludes the use of permanent traffic orders for this purpose, but is silent on the use of experimental orders (ETO) and Wandsworth council have therefore decided to test this approach. An ETO can only run for a maximum of 18 months and in this case there is no legal mechanism to convert to a permanent traffic order so that the scheme can remain in place. I do therefore think that such initiatives are to be best viewed as a proof of concept / lobbying tool as part of wider discussions with Government on the devolution of powers.
However, as Cllr Dickson noted in the meeting, the Department for Transport has stopped the scheme despite Wandworth Council reporting that the proportion of speeding vehicles on the trial roads had reduced since the scheme was introduced. Further information on this here.
Lambeth council is preparing a new Road Danger Reduction Strategy. I am told this will include a review of the possible actions required to help achieve ‘Vision Zero’- the Mayor of London’s ambition to reduce road danger to the extent that no-one is killed or seriously injured on our roads. As part of this process, the council is reviewing locations where collision clusters have been recorded and where it has received feedback from the community in relation to road danger. I am seeking information about the proposed public consultation process for the Strategy and will ensure the details are shared as I receive them.
In the meantime, the Police have powers to enforce against drivers exceeding the speed limit, but finite resources to do so. I would like to see more frequent Community Road Watch operations in the hot spots in the ward of Milkwood Rd, Herne Hill Rd and Denmark Hill with resident participation including children (although the operations typically take place during school hours). The last operation was in March 2022. I also want to see the council continue to make robust representations to the Government for local authority enforcement of speeding offences. Finally, I do think speaking with local residents that further traffic calming solutions could be explored for Milkwood Rd, which I submitted to the council in December.
I hope this information is of some assistance. You would be welcome to share it with Fawnbrake Avenue residents you have been in touch with if that might be helpful – as I say I understand their concerns. Thank you again for raising this important issue.
The forthcoming Public Spaces Protection Order was mentioned. See earlier post on this.
The next meeting of the panel is likely to be in June.