Mayor of Ilkley insists town is not a 'no-go' area despite riverside violence

The mayor of Ilkley has assured residents of the spa town that police and councillors are working hard to tackle criminal behaviour at the River Wharfe.

Groups dispersed from Ilkley on June 25 moved downstream to Burley-in-Wharfedale instead

Earlier this week a dispersal order was imposed on the pebble beaches, East Holmes Field and the town centre after large numbers of youths gathered by the river for a planned fight. Anyone congregating in the area can face a fine of up to £2,500 and police have legal powers to move groups on.

During the heatwave there has been severe overcrowding at the Wharfe and issues with drug use, littering, 'tombstoning', excessive drinking and illegal parking.

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Burley-in-Wharfedale also experiences problems with overcrowding, littering, traffic and abusive behaviour after groups were dispersed from Ilkley

West Yorkshire Police told Ilkley Town Council that some groups were travelling from as far afield as Manchester to party on the beaches, with many arriving by train.

Ilkley's mayor, Coun Mark Stidworthy, has admitted that the issues have been 'significant' during the lockdown summer, and insists an action plan is in place, with further meetings to follow.

"The scale of the problem should not be downplayed - it's been significantly worse than in previous years. But it is also very localised. The town centre has mostly been very calm and normal."

Coun Stidworthy believes under-pressure police have lacked resources to tackle the yobbish behaviour at the riverside.

Police clear youths from the Ilkley pebble beaches

"We feel that there is a real intention from the police, British Transport Police, Bradford Council and the youth services and a genuine desire to act. There is a pre-existing resources problem that has been exacerbated by Covid-19. With the cuts to policing and councils, some of the people who might have dealt with these youths are simply not in post any more.

"Officers are spread so thinly, and with social distancing they can't all use a single van to get here. There are some of them who are shielding and isolating.

"Of course these people need to accept personal responsibility. Education campaigns are not a quick fix. We have put up banners and are looking at a longer-term approach, and we have increased the capacity for litter. With the level of crowding this week, some people couldn't even get to the bins.

"It's not a normal situation, we haven't had this level of persistence before. It's an unusual period of hot weather, and there is a lack of inhibition and a sense of social release. Young people are not at school or college, people have been furloughed from work."

The mayor has praised residents of Ilkley who have 'pulled together' in a town where over a quarter of the population is aged over 70, and has reiterated that Ilkley has not suddenly become a 'no-go zone'.

"We have always welcomed responsible visitors - we are a tourist town with a high quality retail and hospitality offer and nice green spaces. We don't want to spread a message that people shouldn't come here. Ilkley has always been a place for people from Bradford to come and enjoy themselves. The town centre has been very quiet - it certainly hasn't been a no-go area.

"We have approached our MP, Robbie Moore, and we have asked for more resources to tackle this. Considerate people are welcome here but you cannot just turn up and do what you want."

British Transport Police officers have been on duty at Ilkley Station to identify potential offenders arriving by train, and the local Tesco has been monitoring alcohol sales to groups of young people. West Yorkshire Police have also closed roads near the river to prevent illegal parking.

"There is a concern that when pubs and bars re-open on July 4 this will get even worse.

"The police could only get the dispersal order for violent behaviour, they did not have the same powers to deal with social distancing. I have a great deal of sympathy for them and there is a detailed plan that is being implemented already, there just needs to be greater speed and scale. Hopefully when more activities become available for people, the pressure will reduce."

One potential long-term solution is applying for a Public Spaces Protection Order for the riverside parks, which would ban activities such as barbecuing, with legal penalties enforceable.

"We have to be mindful of the message that is sending and what we want to achieve. It would be a restriction on normal, legal activities enjoyed by families who live in Ilkley.

"There has been a huge volunteer effort - people have been coming out at the end of the day to clean up, there is a real community spirit to come to the fore. Ilkley is still a nice place to visit, and we don't want to become known as a place where people go to party on the beaches."

Coun Anne Hawkesworth, who represents Ilkley on Bradford Council, also praised the response of police officers on the ground, but believes more robust action is needed and better pre-planning when hot weather is forecast.

"These issues during hot weather are not new. Last autumn there was a meeting between the police and the councils, and it was agreed by everyone that there was a fundamental need for a proper plan rather than 'hit and run' reactions.

"In the spring, we councillors wrote a formal letter to Bradford Council with our ideas and the options. We wanted some preparation and more funding. Parking is part of the issue - people will abandon cars in the middle of the road - and we want more fines and enforcement. We asked for CCTV, especially after the fire at Olicanian Cricket Club, and we want targeted action, for people to just look at the weather forecast and decide on a plan.

"We asked for PSPOs to be applied to either side of the suspension bridge to stop people jumping off, but we heard nothing about that, the parking measures or extra policing. We've never seen the police plan and there's been no move forward with the CCTV.

"I want to stress that the officers on the ground did an admirable job, but we need the force to realise that Ilkley has problems and needs money to sort it out. There is no point in us saying that it is a wonderful place to visit if that isn't backed up.

"We would like to have a police target unit, like they have in York, or maybe just one field where parking is allowed, like at Bolton Abbey. This just cannot continue."

Bradford Council has increased the number of bin collections on busy days and provided larger bins to cope with increased demand. They have also supplied gloves, bags and safety equipment for local volunteers undertaking litter picks. Council youth workers will attend the scene to engage with teenagers seen causing trouble.

West Yorkshire Police declined to comment.