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Is Norwich city centre less safe than it used to be?

PUBLISHED: 08:34 02 May 2018 | UPDATED: 09:02 02 May 2018

Gentlemans Walk, Norwich city centre.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Gentlemans Walk, Norwich city centre. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

A recent spike in crime has prompted Norwich Police to increase its presence in the city centre. But do people feel less safe in the area than they used to? Luke Powell found out more.

Two men fighting just off Haymarket in Norwich city centre.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYTwo men fighting just off Haymarket in Norwich city centre. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

It is a bright and beautiful view of a Fine City at its very best.

But this image of Norwich in the sunshine does not show the whole picture. Rising crime - and fear of crime - is casting a shadow over the city centre.

On Monday, police carried out a crackdown targeting aggressive beggars, shoplifters and other low-level criminals.

It comes as figures show that reported crime in the city centre has increased by 8pc in the past year.

But not everyone believes there is a crime problem in the city centre.

Stefan Gurney, executive director of the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID), said Norwich is probably of the safest cities in the country.

Haymarket and William Booth Street in Norwich city centre.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYHaymarket and William Booth Street in Norwich city centre. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

He said crime levels in the city centre were “fairly steady”, but added people could perceive the issue to be worse than it really is.

“I think if you see rough sleeping or people who are begging, it gives the perception of a more uncomfortable situation,” he said.

“But that does not necessarily mean there is an increase in crime.

“That can impact on people wanting to come to the city or reduce the amount of time they want to spend here.”

An online poll on our website found that 61pc of the 392 people who voted felt Norwich was less safe than a year ago.

Meanwhile, some of the people interviewed on the street felt Norwich had always been a safe city.

Haymarket and William Booth Street in Norwich city centre.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYHaymarket and William Booth Street in Norwich city centre. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

It was clear, however, that people wanted to see more police officers on patrol.

According to Norfolk Police’s Norfolk 2020 restructuring programme, that issue will be addressed.

Sgt Mark Shepherd, of the Norwich East policing team, said the number of beat managers in the city centre is planned to increase from five to 12.

Figures from police.uk show there were 6,232 reported crimes in the Mancroft Ward of the city in 2017. In 2016, the figure was 5,789.

The Mancroft Ward covers large swathes of the city centre.

While there were less reports of anti-social behaviour in 2017, violence, criminal damage and robbery had all increased from the year before.

Mancroft ward councillor Martin Schmierer said he regularly received complaints about drug dealing, graffiti and street drinking.

He said more needed to be done to prevent such crimes from occurring.

“One thing that is regularly raised to me is concerns about drug dealing,” he said. “And it feels like a lot of people are saying police have not got a grip on that.”

He said a lot of the dealing was taking place in the stairwells of apartment blocks in areas such as Ber Street and Bull Close Road.

Mr Schmierer added there had been an increase in people spraying graffiti illegally in Norwich.

“It all adds to the feeling that the area is becoming more run down,” he said.

Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive officer of St Martin Housing Trust, which helps the city’s homeless, said there was an aggressive begging and street drinking problem in Norwich.

She said: “There is no one single answer to reducing aggressive begging and street drinking.

“We need to look at the root causes of this behaviour. Unfortunately a number of factors, driven by austerity measures, have combined to create a perfect storm.

“The result of this means that we are seeing an increase in aggressive begging and street drinking.”

She stressed that not all homeless people beg and not all beggars are homeless.

Dr Sheldon said there was still work to do to ensure that people across Norwich were made aware there is support available for the homeless.

“Often kind, well-meaning people give money to beggars,” she said. “This kindness exacerbates the aggressive begging and street drinking problem.

“It also means that people who are homeless are often more reluctant to come and seek help.”

She said St Martins was working with a variety of councils and public health bodies to deliver programmes to reduce homelessness.

“No one agency can solve the aggressive begging and street drinking problem,” Dr Sheldon said.

“Key organisations must work together to address why we are seeing an increase in this behaviour and to resolve some of the root causes of aggressive begging and street drinking.”

What do the police figures show?

Police figures show that William Booth Street, near Hay Hill, was one of the most notorious areas for crime in the city centre.

In 2017, there were 352 reported crimes “on or near” the side street - more than double the number of incidents reported at Castle Meadow.

Anti social behaviour (ASB) was the most common reported crime over the past two years. In 2017, there were 1,649 reports of ASB in the city centre.

In 2016, the figure was slightly higher at 1,771.

Reports of violence and sexual offences increased from 827 in 2016 to 1,062 last year.

Theft from a person also increased from 91 to 130.

Shoplifting was also among the highest reported crime over the past two years. It climbed slightly from 1,178 in 2016 to 1,190 in 2017.

The figures also show that the most crimes reported last year were in August, with 620 recorded. In 2016, it was September.

What does the public say?

George Reeves, 75, retired, said: “I think the biggest issue is people who are trapped on low income, low wages. I’m not trying to blame the education system, but I wonder sometimes if it’s a case of setting these folk up before they go out in the real world”

Robert Vincent, 30, of Norwich, claimed he had been a victim of crime in the city centre. He said: “It is getting very worrying the city. During the day it is okay, but at night I am always looking over my shoulder.

“I would like to see more police on the street to protect people.”

Douglas Martin, 45, from North Walsham, said: “We could do with some more police officers, but when people ask about it, they just say that we’ve got enough, which we know isn’t true.”

John Mudd, 85, of Norwich, said: “As far as I am concerned I don’t see crime as a major problem in the city centre. I feel quite happy to wonder around.

“It is a damn sight better than Surrey.”


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