Dispersal zone could be extended

Tuesday’s meeting about the proposed West Hampstead dispersal zone was less “drop-in” and more “sit around a table” than I’d been led to believe. As a result, and because the door was locked when I arrived, I missed the start and thus (presumbaly) the set-up and the police’s perspective.

Nevertheless, I was there to hear local residents voice a wide range of disgruntlements with both the council and the police.There was a strong sense that “something had to be done”, with anecdotes of long-standing anti-social behaviour. There was also a recognition that the underlying problems wouldn’t be solved by simply moving people on, but the idea of this short-term measure was broadly welcomed with caveats around appropriate resourcing.

The main problem the police want to deal with is gang activity on the Lithos Road estate, and they see the dispersal zone as a useful tool to help them. The challenge is that dispersal zones often just shift the problem across the border, wherever that border might be. They are also extremely subjective – any group of young people can be dispersed at the whim of the police and are not allowed to return within 24 hours.

Lets take Broadhurst Gardens as an example – the whole road is included in the proposed zone. A group of 22-year-old bankers drinking outside The Gallery could be very noisy, and potentially anti-social. Down the other end of the road by the Broadfield Estate, a group of 18-year-olds could be hanging out one evening with not much else to do, just chatting and with no intention of causing trouble. Which group is more likely to be dispersed?

There appeared to be a strong push to extend the zone across West End Lane to include the Thameslink station – this ended up being stretched to the Maygrove Road/Iverson Road junction including Medley Road.

The blue lines mark the proposed extension

Ultimately, most people seemed to say they supported the zone only if it was extended as described above. Camden’s Michael Hrycak (a Senior Community Safety Officer) explained that extending the zone would delay the process as people living in that area would then need to be consulted. Cllr John Bryant pointed out that there wasn’t much point having a consultation meeting if the input was going to be ignored. It’s not entirely clear how this will proceed – quite possibly by the original zone being put in force and the extension being considered when the zone is reviewed after six weeks or so.

Such reviews are mandatory for dispersal zones. They can lead to prolonged periods of enforcement (a few years for example), or the review might conclude that the impact is negligible or that the problem has been solved. There’s also an issue in that anti-social behaviour tends to be worse in the summer when longer days and warmer nights encourages people to be out later. So, a reduction in ASB may be ascribed to a successful dispersal zone, when it could just be a function of rainy weather and chilly nights.

As soon as I hear more about the implementation of the zone, I’ll report back.