Headlines: July 28th, 2003

Local councils are to be given the powers to seek the closure of alleyways in 52 areas to help prevent crimes such as robbery, burglary, arson and drug dealing. The announcement has been made by the Environmental Quality Minister, Alun Michael.Mr. Michael made his announcement in Walsall, where six areas will be designated for rights of way closure. Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council was one of the 11 authorities that provided sufficient evidence to Defra that closing rights of way in would help cut crime. Applications were made by 15 local authorities to be allowed to consider closures of alleyways in 78 areas. The moves were supported by evidence from police and community groups. Decisions on the remaining applications have been deferred to give those councils the chance to provide more evidence that the rights of way are facilitating crime.

Mr. Michael said the alleyways had often given burglars easy access to the back of houses, or provided an easy escape from police. In other places they had become havens for drug dealers or soft targets for vandals. He said the evidence given to Defra had shown that the rights of way had become a serious detriment to communities and that they no longer served the purposes for which they were originally designed such as providing an access point for people collecting ash.

The department, he said, had been stringent in setting criteria to close rights of way and local authorities had had to provide strong evidence that real problems existed and that other means of crime prevention had failed. The system had been designed to avoid the risk of important rights of way being affected without good reason.