Unopposed Bill Committee Minutes of Evidence

Sections 180-199

London Local Authorities Bill [HL]

Tuesday 18 February 2003

180. Thank you, that is my first question. My second question is that this is a social phenomenon of considerable importance and some antiquity. I wondered what the local authorities were doing in conjunction with the police and other agencies to try and identify and deal with it before it hits the wall?

(Mr Miles) There is a group that was formed last year of all South-West London local authorities where information on graffiti is being shared. It also includes Railtrack and members of the police force. The intention is to share graffiti, to share best practice, and to basically have a common set of removal. The aim is ultimately to come up with a database of who is committing the crime and to share information.

181. That is encouraging but what I was really after was the involvement of the youth offending teams. This is not the only thing that young people do when they have not sufficient other things to do and authorities can actually be proactive in tackling the question of truancy and of lack of opportunities to do constructive things amongst young people. I think I am taking this beyond the bounds of the Bill.

182. CHAIRMAN: I think that is probably not the area of the council's activity here. Could I ask one question. We are talking now about commercial property owners who are going to have graffiti removed by compulsion, so to speak. They will presumably have the opportunity to get somebody else to do the work other than the council and they will presumably get a price from the council of what they are going to be charged before you start.

(Mr Miles) Certainly before we undertake any work we give a quotation to the company of how much we can charge to do it. We are quite happy, in addition to that, to give them some advice on the best way for them to remove it and if they can get somebody else to remove it we are happy. We are only interested in removing the graffiti.

183. MR LEWIS: On the first limb of your question, my Lord, you said would they have the opportunity of dealing with it themselves. The answer to that most certainly is yes because, again, these are default provisions so a notice is served requiring removal of the graffiti and it is only if it is not removed within a certain period that the council can then remove the graffiti themselves.

184. CHAIRMAN: Having told the property owner how much it is going to cost, the property owner might then decide "I can get Joe Bloggs down the road to do it cheaper"?

(Mr Miles) I am sure that as part of the letter that will be sent out as part of the notice we could inform them how much it would cost to remove it, so they have the evidence in front of them.

185. I think that is an important point. A commercial property owner would feel very aggrieved and might, goodness me, think perhaps the council is subsidising other activities by charging him what he might consider to be an extortionate amount, although that would not be the case in Hammersmith and Fulham, of which I am a resident. You see what I am getting at?

(Mr Miles) I will take that on board. No, we would not overcharge in Hammersmith and Fulham.

186. MR LEWIS: We could possibly include a provision in the Bill which would provide that when a notice is served under section 12 requiring the removal of graffiti that an indication is given of the level of the costs, or I am also reminded that we do have the additional subsection 6(d) which makes provision for the code of practice and it is something which could be dealt with in the code of practice. MR LEWIS: If your Lordships were minded you could always, of course, insist that there is provision in 16 which ensures that the question of notifications cost is dealt with when the notice is served.

187. CHAIRMAN: I would be happy for it to be in the code of practice rather than, perhaps, on the face of the Bill. I think if we could have an assurance that it would be in the code of practice, that would satisfy us on that point.

188. MR LEWIS: I see the nodding of heads. On that basis I am very happy to be able to give that assurance.

189. CHAIRMAN: I do not know whether I am doing the right thing by interrupting at that point on matters like this.

190. MR LEWIS: My Lords, I was going to ask Mr Miles if he could just describe to you exactly what is involved in the process of removal of graffiti and to give a rough indication of the sort of costs involved in each particular incident, if he can. I know it is quite difficult and he has explained to me that it is but, of course, there is a global expenditure.

191. CHAIRMAN: I have seen your vehicles which are Land Rovers, I think, about the place.

(Mr Miles) That is correct. We use, in Hammersmith and Fulham, three main methods of graffiti removal. We have a unit which sandblasts brick walls to take the graffiti off. Alternatively we have chemical treatments which we can put on graffiti and remove with jet washing. Thirdly - and in a lot of cases the cheapest option - is to overpaint the painted surface with a new coat of paint. That is what we tend to recommend to most homeowners that they do.

192. In terms of cost, it is extremely difficult because each individual case needs to be assessed (a) for the material that has been used to create graffiti and (b) the surface it is on and (c) where the graffiti is. If it is on a bridge it is, obviously, more difficult than on the roadside. Each individual one is assessed but if you could look at the pictures that I have given, the second picture of the bridge with black graffiti on, just to the left of the yellow line there is a black tank - quite a large tank. We would charge in the region of £50 to remove that.

193. It looks rather as though that bridge could do with a coat of paint in any case.

(Mr Miles) It has been reported to Railtrack.

194. LORD ELTON: Are you aware of the case, I think it was in Glasgow many years ago, where there was an area of a bridge which was continually being defaced and repaired until they commissioned an artist to put a somewhat abstract picture there, and it remained completely untouched for 20 years - except for somebody who wrote "Picasso" at the bottom of it?

(Mr Miles) It is something that we are using. We are looking at an area in Fulham which is constantly defaced, and it is to the rear of private residences. We are looking at the possibility of putting a graffiti mural on that because what most graffiti artists do, most people will accept, is acceptable and, in some cases, can be an advantage to the area. The strange thing is that taggers, which is the majority of the problem we have, will not touch that. It seems a form of art and they will not tag over the top of it. It is a way of stopping it.

195. MR LEWIS: Finally, Mr Miles, can I finish off by dealing with this question of the extension of the provisions to the plant and apparatus?

(Mr Miles) As an authority we are able to deal with street signs and street furniture that belongs to the local authority. However, there is an awful lot of street furniture and apparatus on the streets that belongs to telecom or to other statutory companies. At the moment we do not have a provision that allows us to charge for removal. The aim of this section is to either put the onus on them to remove it themselves or to give us the power to charge them to remove it by serving a Section 12 notice. With the best will in the world we can only remove the stuff from our property and the onus is on them to take some sort of responsibility for their own structures that they have on the street.

196. MR LEWIS: My Lords, unless you have any further questions of Mr Miles, that is the evidence which he was intending to give.

197. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr Miles, very much.

(The witness withdrew)

198. MR LEWIS: In summary I would reiterate the point that we have both been making that we are excluding from this provision residential property owners. I would also re-emphasise that if you like the broken fence argument put forward by Mr Miles, that what is actually happening whilst we recognise that the property owner is the victim of a crime, it is criminal damage and can be equated with other types of criminal damage where the immediate reaction is not to ask the council to do something about it. I would like to re-emphasise that the councils are doing all they can with the problem with the resources that they have - particularly in the case of Hammersmith and Fulham - and they would like to do more. With this provision they would be able to, not just dealing, if you like, reactively but also proactively.



199. CHAIRMAN: Now we hear from Mr Sanderson.

(Mr Sanderson) My Lord, if you will pardon my ignorance I will answer the points in the order in which they have been raised. The Government continues to oppose the clause having noted the amendments that have been put forward, whilst welcoming them and welcoming the efforts of local government to address graffiti which is acknowledged as being a blight on everybody's lives. However, our concern remains principally, if I can use these words, a common responsible approach needs to be adopted. The exemptions that have been secured by Railtrack and London Underground and the Royal Mail would seem not to indicate a common responsible approach.

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