I still remember my first visit to Wisbech. I came here to look at a house that was for sale (and which I now live in.) I remember being utterly enchanted by Ghost/Gunson’s Passage, wondering what the story was there, pacing the route that winds between the old buildings, past the Mason’s Hall.
I remember thinking how delightful the Church Gardens were and enjoying the wider alley that linked them to Love Lane.
I remember my friends and I exploring all those twisty, turny little back ways that creep off between the shops around the market square and Hill Street.
When my Son started school at Nene, he always used to want to walk through that incredibly narrow passage that leads from Norfolk Street through to the Dual Carriageway. The one through which, if you are square-shaped like me, you have to walk sideways. I used to pretend to be a monster and chase him through while he squealed and laughed and pretended to shoot me with whatever imaginary weapon his brain concocted that day.
I sat in Wisbech Town Council last night and listened to Inspector Robin Sissons propose to gate off a number of Wisbech’s alleys in order to prevent them being misused by late-night drinkers, carousers, lovers, brawlers, vandals, hanging-about’ers, rough-sleepers and the severely toilet-challenged.
The proposal was supported by pretty much everybody. It was supported by the FDC officer. Of course it was supported by the opposition, most of whom have never encountered a regulation they didn’t like (it seems to me.) It was supported by my Conservative colleagues, including a close colleague (who was opposed to it the last time it raised it’s head a few years ago but has been converted as long as the looming new metal gates are of an appropriate design which is pleasing to the eye.)
I did point out that the alleys and passages were part of Wisbech’s charm and quirky character and that they belonged to the people of the town, so maybe before we fenced them off we might just consider whether we really wanted to lose them rather than fight to take them back from whatever forces were being claimed to have overrun them? Didn’t it smack a bit of just surrendering to crime? When the people responsible moved on to wherever they would lurk next, would we also fence and gate those places off? But Inspector Sissons pointed out that he just didn’t have the resources to keep stopping crime in those places, so it would be better all ’round if we solved the problem by walling it up. It was a well-received argument. There’s nothing like a big metal gate to make you feel safe.
To be honest, I don’t know why I bothered to question any aspect of it. This is the nature of things. Every problem brings about a new batch of regulation. Controls are imposed and everybody cheers and says: “Well done.” We all feel a bit safer and if those malcontents move somewhere new? No problem. There is a regulation to fit every situation. We’ll get them with the next wall, or barrier, or barbed wire fence.
Elsewhere in the meeting councillors told of areas away from the town center where groups of people were now gathering to drink. Somebody suggested that maybe they’d been moved on by measures in the center of town. Displacement of a problem rather than a solution? Surely not. Somebody else thought that unlikely since there were still issues in the center of town.
I listened to reports of street drinking and “lurking” in alleys, including people who have been defecating in dark corners and urinating wherever they fancy. I suppose all that single-can-cumulative-impact-street-drinking-ban stuff just hasn’t quite kicked in yet. No doubt the problem will vanish in the next few weeks as all the new regulations go to work.
I can’t help but think there is a definite direction of travel though which is shared by the police, FDC, local councillors and, I suspect, many local people. We will keep clamping down on this and that and the other until all the things that some people dislike about the town are drained away, like the cleansing of an infected wound. I cannot help but wonder if we are being entirely honest about what forces we are at war with? Have we identified what the infection is? Are we treating the cause, or just a series of symptoms? I’m sure everybody thinks they can identify the cause – but I’m equally sure that when you ask them you’d get dozens of different things listed.
I have now given up pointing out policies that aren’t targeted at the real problem, or consequences unforseen that may result from ill-considered measures. I have given up trying to analyse policy logically because if you don’t support every new measure then you must “love drinkers” or something, apparently. You couldn’t possibly just want to take some time and consider your proposal to see if maybe, just maybe, it might not deliver precisely what it says on the tin.
It is possible to simultaneously have sympathy with people who live, work or move through areas where there is antisocial behaviour and crime, while simultaneously wanting to approach these difficult issues in a way which might not just shove the whole thing onto the next unfortunate victims. Or make things worse.
But there is no point in me saying any of this. I stand alone on the issue and there are only so many times you can say: “Hold on a second, what about this…” before you begin to see that the power of “Something Must Be Done” is too great. In the end, that’s the point of democracy. If this is what people want, then they’ll get it.
If you and your son walk down that narrow alleyway that leads from Norfolk Street to the Dual-Carriageway now, you might find that your scary monster game is interrupted by the presence of human stools*, dumped by somebody who apparently didn’t see anything wrong with dropping their kegs there. And shortly, you won’t be able to walk down there at all.** It’ll become a non-place surrendered to the realities of the modern world. And does anybody care? No. I don’t suppose they do. As long as it has a gate that is pleasing to the eye.
*Poo. In case you didn’t know.
**A public consultation is required before this stuff can happen.