MONTHS of anti-social behaviour are set to come to an end this week when a dispersal order in Sussex Square comes into effect.
From today, police will be able to disperse groups of youngsters gathering in the square after residents and business owners complained of anti-social behaviour.
Since April, more than 30 complaints have been made to the police concerning a group of up to 30 youths aged between 12 and 20 who gather daily in the Walcot centre.
PC Dan Ashfield, beat manager in Walcot, said: “Over the past few months there have been numerous complaints from the area not just of anti-social behaviour but also arson, criminal damage, burglary and robbery and it has become a problem in the community.
“We spent some time speaking with the residents and the businesses around the Square and the general opinion was that a dispersal order might help to remove the problem.
“The order will just apply to Sussex Square, and the groups of youths are free to meet up in other places, such as Buckhurst Fields.”
The dispersal order applies to all groups of two or more people who congregate and are suspected of causing anti-social behaviour.
It does not mean that the youngsters will not be able to use the space to meet but it will mean they will be moved on if they are thought to be causing a nuisance.
Thomas Witham, 17, of Spenser Close, who is part of the group of friends who meet there, thinks the new order is unfair.
He said: “I don’t think they really understand that this is a meeting place for us, because we all live around here.
“We come here because it’s near the shops and especially in the summer we can buy drinks when we want them. We don’t say to each other ‘I’ll meet you at the end of this road’, we just say we’ll meet up in Sussex Square.
“I don’t think it really matters whether we’re actually doing anything or not, I think most people just make it a big deal because there’s a big group of us.
“But if we’re shouting and stuff it’s only because we’re shouting to each other to hear each other. I know it’ll be ok if we’re sitting around nicely but I think there will still be complaints, just because we’re here.
“Most of us haven’t done anything wrong. It’s really unfair that because of a couple of people causing the criminal damage we can’t really meet here any more. Just a few people have ruined it for the rest of us.”
Peter Mallinson, chairman of the charity shop and library, which has had broken windows and a damaged roof caused by youths, said: “It’s good news and I hope that it will have the desired affect of reducing the anti-social behaviour in Sussex Square.
“I’m not against the youths congregating, it’s not about punishing the youths, I have no problem with them meeting up and chatting and being social, but what I do mind is when that become anti-social and they smash the windows.
“If they say they have nowhere to go, why don’t they go to Buckhurst Fields? There they can run about and jump about and throw cans at each other if they want to without causing any damage.”
But Carolanne Bond, chairman of community group SWAP, thought the dispersal order was too harsh.
She said: “They’re not doing any actual damage.
“They don’t bother me. There are sometimes three or four of them there at about 9am or 10am but most of them come along at 5pm.
“All they’re doing is sitting around chatting.
“They have nowhere else to go. The youth club is only open two nights a week and only from 6pm to 8pm, and it’s not enough, there’s nothing for them.”
Last Friday, Our Place was closed for four weeks since it was failing to meet needs and was not structured enough for the young people.