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Rural crime concerns aired at national conference

[Thursday 15 March 2007]
simon hart
Countryside Alliance chief
aires rural crime issues
Photo: Countryside Alliance

THE head of a leading countryside campaign group has been giving his views on the scourge of crime in rural areas - a subject that rouses strong feelings in many country folk who feel sidelined by police forces that concentrate on urban areas.

Simon Hart, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, used his speech to a major local government and Policing conference in Birmingham to outline the Alliance's views on tackling rural crime.

Mr Hart tackled a number of subjects, but underlying them all was a call for the authorities to do more to tackle rural crime and to reduce the fear of crime in rural areas.

He shared the platform at last week's event with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Home Office's Crime Strategy Unit, making it a real opportunity to communicate with those in positions of influence about how to combat rural crime.

Mr Hart said: "The Alliance has polled members recently and it is clear from the results that crime is chief amongst your concerns. For many, whether falling victim to crime or not, simply fearing the possibility of crime can have a detrimental affect on quality of life."

He went on to take a swipe at the policies of the Labour Government: "Our law abiding, tax paying, and respectful rural minority would have been badly served by the Government's proposed Police mergers, thankfully now shelved, which would have wiped some forces off the map and left huge areas of the countryside with no service.

"Instead of mergers, we believe the real answer lies in less control and direction from central government, and more flexibility and freedom to enable Chiefs Constable to deliver local policing arrangements, addressing local concerns and delivering effective policing in rural and urban areas.

"Given the well publicised lack of rural police resources it is especially frustrating for rural communities to see their Police allocating time to offences which are not prioritised either in the National Policing Plan or in individual Crime and Disorder Partnership Plans. The risk is that many rural communities will lose confidence in, and respect for, their police forces."

A specific example of where Mr Hart believes local action must be taken is fly-tipping. This is a growing problem in all rural areas - including parts of the Yorkshire Dales that are seen by some as their own personal tip.

The Alliance is set to launch its "Fly-tipping - scrap it" campaign, and last month commissioned an independent poll, which has shown that 3 out of 4 people believe fly-tipping is the greatest abuse of the countryside.

"Fly-tipping is a crime committed by a diverse range of people, "said Mr Hart. "At one extreme there are serious criminals; at the other there are a large number of people who just don't believe it's wrong to unload a car full of rubbish on the side of a quiet country lane.

"More than 50% of land managers experience more than one fly-tipping incident each year, and report an average cost of £1,000 dealing with each incident. It can't be right for private individuals to have the cost and the hassle of tackling this scourge, and I will be saying so. Local authorities, not Westminster, will be most effective at tackling this problem."

If our local authorities and our Police are willing and able to work with local communities we have every reason to be positive

Simon Hart - Countryside Alliance

The conference also heard about a scheme aimed at tackling the causes of crime and anti-social behaviour at a grass-roots level.

The Get Hooked on Fishing initiative proves that angling tuition can help cut truancy and youth crime and is helping to tackle youth exclusion says Simon Hart.

"Sports Minister Richard Caborn was waxing lyrical about this initiative at last year's Labour Party Conference, so we know this has broad appeal.

Additionally, Fishing for Schools, a new Countryside Alliance initiative, is a course aimed at children who find mainstream education does not work for them. Children are taught about fly-fishing and the environment and they gain points from attending, which contribute towards a Certificate of Personal Effectiveness, which is a GCSE equivalent.

"So there is a serious approach to a wide range of problems, but I have outlined our hopes for the future and our belief that local concerns dealt with locally is the best possible solution for rural crime. If our local authorities and our Police are willing and able to work with local communities we have every reason to be positive."

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