The Brighton Society is concerned about the escalation and spread of graffiti in our city and the absence of effective action in tackling graffiti by the Council and the Police. We have decided therefore to host a series of Zoom meetings this year, the purpose of which is to discuss and share experiences about graffiti with local civic groups, councillors, businesses and the police in order to work together to find positive solutions for removing graffiti from our streets. This article is a result of our third meeting.
Tom Druitt – Green Party Regency Ward
Gary Wilkinson – Labour Party Central Hove Labour spokesperson for Environment, Transport and Sustainability
Theresa Fowler – Labour Councillor for Hollingdean and Stanmer Ward Member of the Environmental, Transport & Sustainability Committee
Jon Rowles – Vice Chairman of a local community group in Richmond, Surrey
Nigel Massey – Regency Square Area Society
Julie White – Regency Square Area Society
Jim Gowans – CAG and West Hill Community Association Also Chair of the Montpelier and Clifton Hill Association (MCHA)
Robert Rosenthal – Southdown Rise Residents Association
Conrad Brunner – Member of the Friends of Queens Park
The Brighton Society was represented by Allan Grainger, Jeremy Mustoe, Ninka Willcock and Lyn Lynch-White.
The Brighton Society welcomed three Brighton and Hove councillors to our third anti – graffiti Zoom meeting, held on the 21st September, two of whom are members of the Environmental, Transport & Sustainability Committee (ETS) which is responsible for implementing the 2018 Graffiti Reduction Strategy.
We welcomed Jon Rowles who as Vice Chairman of a local community group in Richmond, Surrey, was able to share his experiences in successfully tackling the graffiti problem in his town. Jon’s contribution to the meeting was very helpful as he brought a different perspective to the graffiti problem that we face in Brighton and Hove. He summarized the following points and suggestions that were successfully used in Richmond:
1. As Richmond council found in the early 1990’s, it is important that all properties and street furniture must be cleaned at the same time because the vandals will graffiti the areas you don’t remove it from.
2. It is important to to act quickly and regularly to cover up just the area vandalized, not, for example, a whole wall.
3. It is important that groups are allocated specific tasks in certain areas of the city i.e. removing graffiti from city centre bins or property walls.
4. The council could include the cost of the clean up as part of their regeneration budget.
5. A monitoring process must be put into place in order to identify new graffiti vandals. This will involve persuading people and instructing council officers to report graffiti in their area and to find strategies to identify vandals.
6. We found that the fixmystreet app is the best way to record and report it to the council. It’s a very fast way to report incidents and it leaves a photographic record which means the police and the council will be able to find other tags the offenders have made. We organised residents to go along streets and report every small bit of graffiti, even if it meant 50 reports for one road.
7. Social media request showing a large tag and asking for information on who did it – this results in tip offs and has removed the five most prolific taggers. It also makes people think twice as they fear that people will inform on them.
8. Many councils, such as Richmond Council, remove graffiti for free for owner occupiers and small businesses, and they remove graffiti from utility boxes for free. I suggest you ask them to do the same in Brighton. Maybe speak to the opposition parties and see if they will pledge to do this too – as this will up the pressure.
9. Councils can issue graffiti removal notices to occupiers of land who won’t remove graffiti – you need to chase the council up and ensure they are issuing them.
10. Contact area managers of commercial property and build a working relationship with them to remove graffiti.
11. Lamp posts and other street furniture can be covered in anti graffiti paint – which nowadays is a type of glass paint with sand in it (rather than the old type that was like an artex ceiling). It stops fly posters and stickers adhering and damages marker pens. Westminster City Council use a Company Called Community Clean to do their painting – so why not ask them for advice directly?
12. Don’t ignore other unkempt areas – some service yards are highly visible but look a mess (such as the one next to The Western Pub by the Churchill Shopping Centre) and this suggests to vandals that it’s the type of area where they can get away with vandalism.
13. You can contact landlords directly asking them to clean off graffiti or if it’s managed by a professional surveying firm contact them – most leases place the cost of maintenance onto the tenant – which causes a situation where the tenant does nothing about it as they don’t want to pay, whilst on the whole landlords want to protect their asset and want it cleaned off ASAP. There are services which allow you to look up the owners of properties for free. https://use-land-property-data.service.gov.uk When you start doing this – it normally prompts the Council into taking more action themselves
14. The use of commercial bins on the pavement also makes the area look rundown. Maybe the council needs to introduce daily collection for commercial premises in the core of Brighton and remove the large bins.
15. You could try and set up a Brighton in Bloom – and encourage shops to put out planters, and for the council to have hanging baskets in the main areas. Colourful planters helps to reclaim civic spaces.
16. You could contact Historic England for help as they have guides for reversing Conservation Areas in decline – and they have a Conservation Scheme known as Partnership Schemes in Conservation Areas (PSiCA) which the central parts of Brighton would be a prime candidate for and would bring in grant funding.
17. You should avoid hiring private cleaning companies whose service will be unnecessarily expensive. There are less expensive methods of cleaning graffiti for example off brick work by applying turpentine then leaving it for 30 minutes to soak into the bricks then jet wash it off.
Shortcomings of the Council Graffiti Reduction Strategy
The meeting considered parts of the Graffiti Reduction Strategy that were unclear and there were reservations also as to whether some aspects of the strategy were achievable. The question of what is meant by ordinary graffiti, as mentioned in the strategy was considered in the meeting along with how does ETS committee explain the difference between graffiti art and graffiti vandalism? For example, would it consider throw-ups or Wildstyle graffiti art?
Theresa, Gary and Tom were asked to help to clarify these terms. Gary said that the question about ordinary graffiti does need strong clarification if we are going to have a more detailed approach or a carte blanche approach to graffiti reduction, and therefore he thought it was fundamental to clarify the graffiti terms. He understood that the term ordinary graffiti, to most people, meant tagging and this differed from graffiti art, murals and wall paintings, that he said had more artistic content. He wanted to do more work with the council officers on the clarification of the terms.
Theresa told the meeting that apart from being a councillor she is in the art industry and suggested that if someone is going to do a mural or graffiti it has to be somewhere that is appropriate for the area and attractive and where permission has been granted. When people however are doing it all over the city it looks unsightly and should be stopped. But she didn’t define the term ordinary graffiti.
Tom also didn’t define the term. He said his Regency ward is a terrible spot for graffiti and that the Clifton ward had done a lot of work painting out graffiti last year but within two or three weeks the graffiti vandals were back. He said the council has a very limited budget, however, as the joint lead for finance, he suggested that the council can invest more money in graffiti removal and then take on the cost of removing it from every surface regardless if it is a business or a private household. However, he said that the council tax payers may not appreciate this approach and that the alternative would be enforcement. He acknowledged that it may be difficult for people who have been graffitied to pay for their own clean up. The choices seem to be between the council’s approach or more the individual’s responsibility. Leaving it to the police he thought is going to have little effect because their resources are restricted and they can’t be everywhere at once.
It was clear from the responses that different graffiti styles had not been given any serious consideration. There was however a general consensus that tagging was of far greater concern than other graffiti styles.
Enforcement and role of the police
Enforcement was considered an important aspect in tackling graffiti. Jim Gowans was not particularly concerned with the various types of graffiti and said that any type of graffiti that was painted on walls without permission should be treated as a criminal offence. Jim wanted the police to do more about the problem suggesting that an approach such as ‘stop and question’ should be used more in order to identify potential graffiti vandals. One further suggestion regarding enforcement was to employ a private organization or to ask the council to clean off graffiti and that enforcement should also apply to all private residents and landlords. The council could introduce a means test and a support measure for those unable to meet the cost of cleaning.
It is essential that the police play a significant role in coordinating an effective strategy with the council in order to reduce graffiti.
Paint your own murals – advice to property owners
The inconsistency between the advice that is currently on the council’s website under the section ‘What to do about graffiti on private property’ that suggests Painting your own mural on your wall as a graffiti deterrent, and the section in the November 2018 Graffiti Reduction Strategy, that states murals are no longer effective in tackling graffiti reduction is confusing. (see paragraph below)
In the past, the council and private business owners have worked with graffiti artists to commission murals in areas where there has been an excessive amount of tagging. Previously, there seemed to be an unwritten rule that taggers would not tag over existing artwork. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, so this method of reducing graffiti vandalism and tagging is no longer effective. Brighton and Hove City Council Graffiti Reduction Strategy, November 2018
In response to the advice to “paint your own mural” it was suggested that few of us are competent mural artists to carry out this task? Also, considering the number of graffitied properties in the city this approach would only lead to a terrible mess creating more visual noise.
Conrad recommended that Brighton and Hove implemented Jon’s recommendations but because of the size of the city it might be worth testing these out in a small selected area.
Tom was worried about the time it would take to contact property owners in order to take action to clean off the graffiti and therefore in the meantime the city is being constantly graffitied. Jeremy pointed out that this is why the approach of starting small with some pilot schemes would be of value.
Other Potential solutions
There were two important points made about tackling graffiti. The first was made by Robert, the issue he said was not just about the aesthetic but also about regeneration and the economic and social wellbeing of our community. There should be a more localized focus on how we are managing our neighbourhoods because the services at present are operating at a strategic level across the city and the localization of that service is not a key focus. Therefore, we should try to establish local neighbourhood managers who have a local presence and their role is to be a high street manager building a relationship with the shopkeepers.
The graffiti problem is ongoing and the Brighton Society is committed to working with the council, residents’ associations and the police to implement a strategy that will reduce graffiti in your city.