Graffiti clampdown in Norwich

Matthew SparkesPolice are clamping down on graffiti in Norwich as the city nears the deadline for submitting its bid to become City of Culture.Matthew Sparkes

Police are clamping down on graffiti in Norwich as the city nears the deadline for submitting its bid to become City of Culture.

In just a week Norwich will put forward its case against finalists Birmingham, Sheffield and Derry/Londonderry.

And a concerted effort to clean our streets may help the city's chances.

The Norwich Society claimed in its annual environment committee report submitted to Norwich City Council this year that graffiti was an issue in many areas of the city centre.

Roads and alleyways around Anglia Square, Cowgate and the Lanes were identified as hotspots.

And Vicky Manthorpe, spokesperson for the Norwich Society, said that it was important for the city to be cleaned up in light of the City of Culture bid.

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'We are aware that graffiti is an ongoing problem,' she said. 'The quicker you erase it the less likely you are to get it back again.'

But she was unwilling to comment on whether or not the problem could impact the chance of Norwich becoming City of Culture in 2013.

'The issue of graffiti and the City of Culture is really up to the city,' she said.

But defaced walls and street furniture is clearly not the right image to portray to those deciding which of the four cities would be given the prestigious award.

Steve Morphew, leader of the city council, said that it was likely that judges from the City of Culture panel would be visiting Norwich at some point in the near future.

'What the judges will expect to see is that the people in the city take pride in their city, and one of the ways that we can show we're worthy is by trying to prevent and deal with any graffiti that turns up,' he said.

'We take pride in the city and we're always striving to make the city a clean, warm and friendly place and any graffiti tends to be a bit scruffy and intimidating, and that's not the image we want to portray.'

But a Norwich City Council spokesperson was keen to stress that they did not see a connection between the bid and the clean-up of graffiti.

'We have an effective programme of tackling graffiti and our bid does not impact on this,' they said.

The council has a Graff-off team, which can be called on to remove fly posters and graffiti.

It makes a special effort to remove abusive or racist graffiti within 24 hours.

But in an additional attempt to eradicate the persistent problem Norfolk police have announced two major cleanup operations on Monday May 24.

The first will start at 10am at Lion and Castle Yard and will see local officers and staff from the nearby Tesco store collecting litter and painting over graffiti on walls.

On the same day 25 students from Notre Dame High School will join representatives from the City Centre Partnership, Norwich Citizens Forum and market traders to clean up near Rose Lane Car Park from 1.30pm.

The move is a reaction to priorities set at the City Centre Safer Neighbourhood Action Panel, where residents reported that litter and graffiti were two of their main problems.

However it will also go some way to making a cleaner, tidier city and could help our bid for City of Culture to shine through.

Inspector Ross McDermott, from the City Centre Safer Neighbourhood Team, said that much was being done to tackle graffiti offenders.

He admitted that opportunities to catch criminals in the act were 'few and far between' but that other effective methods could be used.

Most graffiti in Norwich comprises simple 'tags' which are like signatures belonging to one offender. And a lot of work is done in schools to identify these taggers by keeping an eye open for any sign of them on pupils' textbooks or belongings.

These can sometimes then be traced back to graffiti sites in the city.

'They may be dotted about the city and you can build up a pattern,' he said. 'People do this so that other people recognise it.'

A series of arrests were made in Peterborough in 2008 after a joint operation between Norfolk and Cambridgeshire police.

In that case photos on a social networking website had tipped officers off to a gang who were defacing railway bridges, underpasses, homes and businesses in the town.

But he was keen to stress that graffiti stood out as a problem because Norwich was generally a law-abiding city.

'I think it's very apparent in Norwich because we have a nice, clean city. So where there is graffiti it stands out more,' he said.

'I think it's a small handful of people but it affects people's perception of the area.'

'We know that Norwich is a very safe city, but this affects people's perception of the city.'

'Clearly it affects people who live in the city and people who visit the city, and for that reason it needs to be dealt with.'

He said that there was a danger that if left unchecked, graffiti could lead to further and more serious offending and added that it was important to 'tackle it early and tackle it hard'.

'You leave an area to ruin and it could get worse,' he added.

Most of the offending was by high school-age children, mostly male, and it was only a small number who were responsible for graffiti across the city.

Norwich hosts an annual graffiti convention which sees legal artists from all over Europe descend on the city.

Unused spaces of wall are set aside for the event and local artists can make use of legal graffiti areas such as the underpass underneath Grapes Hill all year round.

T For more about the City of Culture bid see page 15.