- Posted by: Canterbury Labour
- Category: Latest News
Yesterday Labour councillors spoke at Community Committee in favour of plotting permission walls for graffiti artists across the district. Permission walls are a safe space in which graffiti artists can paint without fear but with the ambition of focussing their creative endeavours in this one space and not across empty walls all across our district. The report prepared by the council highlighted that the strategy didn’t work everywhere but was passionately supported by a number of public speakers who believed that engaging with this community was key to resolving the problem and that a limited pilot was at least worthy of consideration. This approach has been proven to be successful in Sellyoak in Birmingham and Bellingham Green in Lambeth.
Reflecting on the meeting Councillor Mel Dawkins, who proposed a discussion on this last year, said the decision to only proceed with ‘commissioned’ murals when external funding was available was ‘disappointing’ and ‘showed a lack of imagination’. Councillor Chris Cornell noted “if this council is waging a war of graffiti, we are obviously losing – it was sad to see a council unwilling to accept new ideas”.
In recent years the money spent on cleaning up graffiti has more than doubled and if anything the problem has got worse. The council’s lauded ‘graffiti officer’ has left post and has not been replaced.
Conservative members, speaking against the plan, suggested that permission walls would encourage illegal activity and undermine law enforcement but both Labour and the Liberal Democrats highlighted that just because something is illegal doesn’t mean that enforcement is the only option – littering is illegal and yet the council’s approach is enforcement, education and the provision of bins to deal with the problem. With conviction rates for graffiti so low it was argued permission walls, which are often sited with the advice of police, may actually provide a means for local enforcement officers to proactively engage with young people on their patch.
Councilllor Dawkins said:
“To be clear a legal, permission wall is not stand alone, it includes a strategy to engage with local community and young people alongside established local artists, mentors to find safe spaces for people to paint and be together in a legal environment. The permission wall is more than just ‘a wall,’ it is a bridge that brings together and engages with all sides of the community, the council, the police in a creative and positive way!”
“Punitive measures only work in the short term and it takes more courage, belief and imagination to come up with a solution that will heal far larger issues in our district. Instead of approaching it head on with the normal knee-jerk reactions, we asked councillors to be innovative, bold and imaginative and work out what is really going on; get to the very root of it and find a different solution that could work.”
We know graffiti is never going to go away completely, but if we want to significantly reduce it, we all need to look at both sides of the argument and try something else. The committee also voted against an idea to investigate whether any additional resources could be made available to provide small seed funding for local communities dealing with graffiti and wishing to work with local community artists to cover up grot spots.
We tried our best for some real change, but we couldn’t persuade the majority to vote independently. We still believe it would be a great thing for Canterbury district to have a project that engages with the creativity community and young people to proactive and positively solve a matter that affects all of us.