Two grumpy old men

Well, Jamie Matthews got back to me. Actually had quite a constructive conversation which was good. Though it is a shame it took a complaint to make this happen.

From this I have had contact from the local police too… Predictable though. Police responses are reactionary (no shit, Sherlock) and of course officers cannot be expected to understand issues from all areas they Police. The Inspector dealing with the complaint got back too: He has discussed the issue with the officer concerned and “advised him”. What that will do I do not know, but at least he listened. We’ll see if I encounter that officer again when I am pissed and get harassment. Of course that will never happen.

As for the bins. That has been reported to the council. Apparently they will deliver four new bins, in four to six weeks time. What a fucking joke! They did say that they will provide some green bags, though it is of course the householders responsibility to clean up the mess (personally I think this is a bigger blight than graffiti and posters which seems to have plenty of money poured into their removal, but anyway…) No sign of the green bags I was promised, so with the general lack of bins from not getting the increased number I was promised 6 months ago I can see even more mess… Am tempted to say sod it as I am moving down the road and so it will no longer be my binyard (though the new one looks just as problematic…)

It’s kind of the same old story really. Empty promises and excuses. Of course if you believe half of what I have been told none of this is paid for by the council tax, so I cannot use that argument, and doubtless rattle on about Thoreau like all apprentice disobedients do (usually the ones who pay it off when it gets tough). I disagree with the council tax for many reasons, for many reasons, house size not being an indicator of income being a main one, and much as I comment often on the benefits of a more mutualist society where this may not be needed, poor service is not a reason for not paying it. This may strike you as odd from me, as I am committed to actually getting value for what you pay out in the consumerist transactions we all are slaves to and frequently complain about how our taxes are spent, but the simple matter is that not paying does not solve anything, oppressive as that situation is.

I heard a great one the other day too: students do not use the majority of services paid for by council tax (education, social services and so on), this is why they should not pay it. True, but neither do I. And a fair proportion goes towards the “gentrification” that the University then lays claim to. What do we do, give up on Welfare as a bad job, so everyone pays for exactly what they use? Anyway, I digress.

I am going to continue. Be an angry young man (or maybe a grumpy old man, now) and become the thorn in the side of local services. And incidentally the new neighbours, looking at the state of the binyard for my new house…

The power of recourse…

Following the incident with the “builders” across the road, (and I use the term “builders” loosely, looking at the quality of the work) I have been active.

It’s amazing what a complaint can do… or is it?

The Police got back to me in the end. An ageing Sargent came round and repeated largely the same rote, though at least he listened. The Noise Service wrote to me and made the point that they are not obliged to run an out of hours service and that they do not have the funding to run it any later.  Apparently there is an agreement that noise issues are down to the council, not the police. “Responsiblisation” as David Garland puts it – shifting the ownership of issues that are essentially crime out of the policing sphere into the community

What a surprise. I guess here we see the key flaw in Garland’s terminology. His observation is valid, but I cannot see this responsibility anywhere… But I guess that is his point.

It took a complaint too, for one of the local councillors (Jamie Mathews) to contact. He asked for anecdotes – so he got them:

Hi Jaimie,

Further to our conversation the other day, here’s a bit more detail about some of the issues that I feel the Council needs to be addressing in a more proactive way. As I said when we spoke, this is the main issue – problems obviously are going to happen, and it is what resources are in place to deal with them.

The background to the incident that lead me to try and make contact was as follows – basically there is a house opposite mine which is currently under renovation – I believe for Deu Estates, who seem to be on a mission to buy up half the street. The burglar alarm on this house had been fitted, but not isolated and started going off at about 3am – I called the “out of hours” noise team, which was closed as it was after 2 on a week day. The Police of course claim to be able to do nothing (I did suggest that maybe if nothing was done they may need to come and arrest me for removing it with a lump-hammer, though that didn’t seem to sway them). So I was stuck with this (which sounded not unlike a dial-up modem at 150dB) until the builder appeared at about 8.30. This incident escalated somewhat when as I was trying to arrange to get the builder’s number one of his mates decided to start giving me a load of abuse about this, and when I went back inside and said if this couldn’t be resolved I’d just get the council to deal with it tried to kick my door through. The police attended this, and overall were extremely dismissive of my concerns – something which I am making a formal complaint about.

So really there are two issues here – firstly the Noise Service line. One has to ask exactly what is the point of an “out of hours” service that does not operate out of hours? I have been in contact with them, and received the standard reply that they do not have adequate funding, and the service is provided as an extra, which they are under no obligation to provide. They also informed me that it was agreed with the Police that the council held responsibility for noise problems, but if the council is not providing that service who does? At the time the Noise service did nothing, other than contact me back and put me under pressure to provide the builder’s number, despite my informing them that as I had just been threatened by one of the builders I felt that acting at this late stage would just exacerbate the whole issue.

So this brings me to the side point point here – I don’t know how much input local councillors have into the policing of the area – but it is clear that that police have very little understanding of how this area works – the one who attended when I called them about the builder certainly seemed not to have any idea how much of an effect the continual issues in South Headingley affect people. The Police seemed happy to step in, in force, with the party in the Hessles last year, in a way which caused an incredible amount of tension for both local residents and students, both in terms of increasing the general feeling of persecution that students feel but also as they seemed to not realise that a fair few local people were not overly happy about meeting a line of aggressive dogs preventing them from getting to their homes  – it seemed almost as if the police had this lip-service idea of helping the community, but treated the area concerned like a little enclave where every resident was a student and therefore under suspicion.

Returning to the noise issue – I have had a similar issue with noise from an alarm in the house next door, again owned by Deu Estates. This was a faulty fire alarm, which went off again all night. I initially contacted Mr Singh from Deu on the number he provides for out of hours contact when he wishes to let a house. His response was that he lived about 10 miles away and it was too late for him to come out and deactivate the alarm. The noise service did attend on this occasion, and called Mr Singh on the number they had for him as key holder (and his home number from the phone book) – he had taken both phones off the hook. They said they could do nothing further as they could not arrange to have the alarm de-activated. So the response to this was a letter to Mr Singh and no sleep for me.

A further problem with this house is an extractor fan, which is loud enough to wake me when all 6 tenants come in pissed at 3am and troop to the toilet. The noise team’s response to this was that “I would have had the chance to object when planning permission was applied for” – the planning notification I got was for two dormer windows. Not extractor fans or (incidentally) converting the premesis to a 6 bed HMO with the associated lack of facilities for rubbish, loss in water pressure (the water on these properties coming through the other houses). So again, the noise team and the associated planning issues seem to be totally ignorant of the reality.

It is my understanding that to gain a licence for a licensable HMO the owner must be a “fit and proper person”… One wonders how someone who has seemingly not applied for full planning permission for the premises, and has needed to be reprimanded for noise problems is a fit and proper person.

The other major issue which it seems that the council services have no understanding of is refuse. A year or so ago I called to report that a large amount of building waste had been fly tipped in my shared bin yard – giving a description and number plate of the van I had seen doing so. The response was that this was the resident’s responsibility to clear. When I commented that I had no means to do this, I was told that as they had my name connected to the binyard and I had effectively refused to arrange removal when asked,  I would be prosecuted. I think my response was something along the lines of “just f-ing try it” and at some point the waste was removed. A couple of months later however a letter was posted through all the doors threatening action about the state of the binyards. This time, as I have actually on more than one occasion I pointed out that there were insufficient bins, to get the standard response that one bin per household is provided and that is all. We have four bins, for 6 houses, one of which is a 6 bed HMO. I have raised this with the HMO team and been assured that this would be looked into and if appropriate a trade bin provided due to the large HMO using the yard. about 3 months later there is no sign of this, and the bins are still often overflowing.

I have notice this morning that all our green bins are now a pile of burned plastic, so doubtless we will have no recycling facilities for weeks on end, and the same argument about whose responsibility it is to clean up the mess.

So there are a few anecdotes, I have plenty more, but these illustrate the key issues – that, as we discussed, there is no one size fits all policy.

The refuse team need to realise that one large HMO on a street can seriously unbalance the way a service needs to be run, and be prepared to make changes to the standard service.
The Noise service needs to operate out of hours, and be able to access properties to deactivate problem alarms when the key holders refuse to.
Landlords need to be denied licenses for properties unless they can show that they have a record of addressing problems – issuing a licence and then worrying when they do not comply is not enough.
The police need to understand the concerns of local residents.

There are a number of minor issues of concern too – we all know there is a problem with litter in the area, but walking from my house to the University I pass a total of two bins – both of which are always full. There are permanent parking issues – but where is a permit scheme, preferably limiting the number of permits issued, while managing to allow visitors of local residents somewhere to park…

Unfortunately I think the  issues are clouded by the supposed student/local binary – this seems to be the only issue addressed and then vast resources seem to be spent on placating students and reassuring locals, without looking at the micro issues – I know some people are galled by the idea that money is spent dealing with problems that they feel would not happen if students were kicked out of the area, but that is not the solution, nor will it happen. But money needs to be found to address the actual tangible problems…

I hope these examples are useful – an apologies that I did feel that I needed to go through the complaints form to try and make contact – At this point I was feeling very unlistened to…

Thanks for Listening

Christian Bodden

We’ll see what happens. Nothing I suspect.