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 in order to work together to find positive solutions for removing graffiti from our streets.
Those involved in the first of these meetings held on the 18th May 2020, were:
Nigel Massey – Regency Square Area Society
Michael Bedingfield – Kemp Town Society
Jim Gowans – CAG and West Hill Community Association Also Chair of the Montpelier and Clifton Hill Association (MCHA)
Michael Owen – Brunswick & Adelaide
Michael Creedy – Outreach Officer for Brighton Peace and Environment Centre (BPEC) –works with North Laine Community Association (NLCA)
Julia Wilde – North Laine Community Association anti-tagging taskforce team
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 main purpose of these meetings will be to form a city-wide action team that is made up of representatives from wards that are affected by graffiti. The outcomes from the meetings will contribute to a future strategy that aims to eradicate unwanted graffiti from the streets of Brighton and Hove.
By coming together in this way we can be a united front in order to hold to account the actions by the Council and the Police regarding their methods and progress in dealing with the graffiti problem. To date there has been no significant progress made by these two public sector authorities either to clean off graffiti from affected areas or to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators.
This article contains some of the points voiced during the Zoom meeting.
The cultural perception of Brighton
There is clearly a problem about how Brighton’s cultural character is perceived by some people. The NLCA representative related an experience she had had with a young couple while she was painting out stickers in a conservation area with the local NLCA anti-tagging taskforce team. The young couple asked “Why are you doing this as small businesses need to advertise themselves?”. She replied, “Because it’s illegal”. They responded, “Yeah! But, this is BRIGHTON!” Although this anecdote was referencing fly-posting, it could equally apply to graffiti such as Wildstyle, tagging or to some murals. This perception of Brighton is one held by many who see Brighton as a trendy, vibrant place, full of artistic goings on; it is also a view that appears to be held by certain influential elements within the council, as is evident from their Twitter feeds.
Jim Gowans expressed disbelief that some councillors and officers seemed to think that the Council’s 2018 graffiti strategy document would, by encouraging street art, deter tagging. The Brighton Society has on numerous occasions pointed out the flaws in this argument. It’s obvious that replacing tags and other forms of graphic graffiti on affected walls of the city with murals would result in the inner city streets becoming flooded with them – The city is so awash with tags and other graffiti graphics that streets would, in turn, become flooded with murals. Brighton and Hove would have to be renamed ‘Mural City’ – no doubt a dream come true for some.
The council, (one would hope unwittingly), is advocating this approach on their website. On a page titled ‘What to do about graffiti’ they suggest that if you want to prevent and remove graffiti from private property, you could paint your own mural on your wall. It’s not hard to imagine the sort of substandard street art we would end up with. Perhaps the council thinks we are all artists. “Yeah! Because this is BRIGHTON!” – (and Hove).
There seems to be an insensitive approach to some street art locations. One representative pointed out how the councillors of the Regency ward decided to give their art award of a £1000 to a partnership called Art & Believe to deter the graffiti vandals by painting the sides of buildings, the Holiday Inn being an example. This building is close to and very visible from the i360 and what is also very concerning is that they painted it in a conservation area without seeking planning permission.
“Yeah! But, this is BRIGHTON!”
This same partnership, Art + Believe, on July 2017, painted the geometric design patterns on the three bus shelters that are the 92 year old survivors of Brighton’s tram system, which stand in front of the Royal Pavilion and are part of the locally listed Old Steine Gardens. Art + Believe said: “We paint large scale bright, colourful, geometric murals to bring forgotten communal spaces to life. “Our work (in Brighton) is heavily influenced by the fusion of colours and cultures from our travels which depicts the spirit of the Brighton community.”
In a council podcast at the end of last year a councillor on the Environmental, Transport and Sustainability committee said “We have to clean up our own act (graffiti on council property) before we can ask people to clean up theirs.” Last year the Conservation Advisory Group (CAG) wrote to Visit Brighton, a department of the council, asking that the artist open houses organisation do not repeat its practice of advertising their events by spray painting on the pavement. CAG received no reply from Visit Brighton. The failure to tackle graffiti is worrying and the general consensus of the meeting was that this would only get worse due to the cuts by central government and the effect that Covid 19 will have on the local economy.
There were two major conclusions that came out of the meeting. Firstly, there needs to be more political engagement and a genuine will to tackle this issue other than talk without action, and secondly a greater police commitment to arrest and conviction. The Kemp Town representative pointed out there are two acts that are helpful in relation to this issue – one is the Criminal Damage Act 1971 and the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 that makes provision for all these things. “It’s a question of getting the police and the council to look at the Acts that are already there rather than trying to find new Acts.” The Kemp Town representative went on to say that “We put in a freedom of information request on the number of fixed penalty notices issued for graffiti. We discovered that from April to August 2019 there were only two issued, whereas in 2016 eighteen were issued. For littering – 3,870 penalty notices were issued in 2018, but it went down to 187 in 2019. Perhaps it’s time to re-focus on graffiti.”
Secondly, there seems to be a higher level of community involvement than any of us had realised, which is very encouraging and needs to be cultivated. With this in mind The Brighton Society will be hosting another meeting in the near future that will be announced on our website, Twitter and Facebook. We invite all those who are members of Resident Associations and Local Action Teams (LATs) to take part and to help find a way to bring a solution to the graffiti problem.