Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 160-179

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Tuesday 18 February 2003

160. MR LEWIS: 3.13 on page 17. I may just read out the relevant parts. In 3.13 the report says "In this section we have identified expenditure of approximately £7 million per annum by London Boroughs and over £6 million a year by the Transport companies....This combined cost of £13 million rises to £23 million if the costs of replacing all the etched glass on the underground is taken into account. London Underground also stated that it could cost them hundreds of millions of pounds to remove track side graffiti and etched train panels.

161. "3.14 The figure of £23 million does not take other costs into consideration such as costs to businesses, utilities, rail companies, Railtrack, homeowners, voluntary organisations, the loss of investment opportunities and capital values, and the funding of various education and diversionary programmes. We were unable to identify accurately these additional costs in this report, but we estimate that the cost of graffiti to the London economy each year exceeds £100 million." Mr Miles, could you give the Committee an idea of how much Hammersmith and Fulham spend on graffiti removal?

(Mr Miles) Currently we are spending in excess of £250,000 on graffiti cleansing. That does not include the amount of money that is also being spent on anti-graffiti coatings that are being put in subways and other areas. In the report that you have in front of you ----

162. On page 15.

(Mr Miles) On page 15 of the report, it does give some indication as to what other boroughs in London are spending: Wandsworth £625,000; Lambeth £600,000, Camden £350,000. So a considerable amount of money is being spent by all London Boroughs on trying to tackle this problem.

163. Could you give the Committee an idea of how many staff are employed in a graffiti unit and perhaps explain as well how Hammersmith and Fulham Council operates under section 12 as it stands?

(Mr Miles) In Hammersmith and Fulham we have a team of six dedicated staff with three vehicles totally dedicated to the removal of graffiti in parks, open spaces and highways. Housing have their own teams which they run as part of the caretaking service. In Hammersmith and Fulham what we try to do is any graffiti that is reported to us we remove within five working days, unless it is offensive and then we try to remove it within 24 hours, and we have a very good success rate on that. When graffiti is reported to us what we do is we write to the owner of the property if it is not council owned and ask them if they would like help in removing it, if we can provide them with assistance, or alternatively, if they are unable to do it themselves, we will come and remove it for them at a charge because of the cost that we incur in removing it. Should they not do that we then try to encourage them to remove it themselves. Under section 12 if we do impose a notice and we do ask them to remove it and they choose not to we are then left with a situation where we will remove the graffiti but also incur the cost with no way of recouping our cost, which is a problem for us obviously on the budget.

164. CHAIRMAN: But you said, Mr Lewis, that you have now brought an amendment to the Bill to allow homeowners not to be charged.

165. MR LEWIS: That is correct.

166. CHAIRMAN: That would be a new step for Mr Miles, would it?

167. MR LEWIS: What Mr Miles would be able to do on the Bill as it currently stands with the amendments in the case where a commercial property owner does not want the assistance of the council in removing the graffiti and refuses to do so himself, it will enable the council to serve notice and in default of the property owner carrying out the works himself the council will then, as they are able at the moment, be able to enter the property and remove the graffiti themselves, but in the case of a commercial property owner they would be able to make a charge.

168. CHAIRMAN: Commercial property, not residential?

169. MR LEWIS: Not residential. I think, Mr Miles, you are perfectly happy for that distinction to be drawn, are you not?

(Mr Miles) Absolutely.

170. CHAIRMAN: Up to now you have been trying to charge residential owners?

(Mr Miles) Yes, we have. The fee that we charge is just the cost that we incur in removing graffiti. We are not in the process of trying to make any money.

171. In future you will not be able to charge them, you will have to do it?

(Mr Miles) No, I do not think ----

172. MR LEWIS: The council would still be able to charge if they are requested to remove the graffiti by the homeowner. What they will not be able to do is in default carry out the works themselves and charge. They will still be able to carry out the works but not charge.

173. CHAIRMAN: Very often this occurs on the outside wall of a homeowner's property, the end of a terrace and so on, so there is nothing that a homeowner can do about it, so to speak.

(Mr Miles) I would say, as previously stated, this is an act of criminal damage. If someone was to damage your fence or break your fence you would not expect the council then to have it repaired for you, it is criminal damage. Graffiti is exactly the same, it is criminal damage and should be reported to the police.

174. LORD ELTON: Could I ask two questions. The first is either globally through the Promoters or from your local authority figures. What would you expect to be the effect on the expenditure of graffiti, the net cost of graffiti, to the authority or to all the authorities of bringing in this Bill as amended?

175. MR LEWIS: I think it is fair to say in the case of Hammersmith and Fulham at least, and perhaps it would be better if we move on to describe the distinction between the cases where the council now does remove graffiti and those where it does not because I think the benefit for Hammersmith is slightly different, which I think Mr Miles would agree with. If you look at the figures which Mr Miles has also handed up with the photographs you get an idea of the number of incidents that are dealt with by the council.

176. The first page of those figures deals with council properties and parks where over 2,000 incidents were dealt with altogether. The second page deals with cases where graffiti has been reported to the council and also removed and there we have something like 1,000 cases. In effect what happens in Hammersmith - in a sense I am giving evidence for Mr Miles but I am sure he will confirm what I am saying - is only those cases where council property is affected or the property in parks is affected or where the council have received a report about graffiti, only in those cases do they actually deal with graffiti. The council does not at the moment, if you like, have a proactive unit which goes out, spots graffiti and removes it, and I think to be fair that is because of lack of resources. What this charging provision it is hoped will do is enable that proactive work to take place.

177. CHAIRMAN: Charging on commercial?

178. MR LEWIS: Exactly, on commercial properties.

179. LORD ELTON: So the net effect will be nil. More work will be undertaken but it will be paid for not by the ratepayer, by the taxpayer?

(Mr Miles) That is certainly what is hoped for from this. Of the 50 per cent of the private residents that were contacted and asked to remove the graffiti, over 50 per cent declined. This will give us the opportunity on commercial properties to go and enforce section 12 and recoup our costs. The theory would be we will be doing more work.

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