Tense neighbourhood 'needs help'

A NEIGHBOURHOOD affected by crime, overcrowding and community tensions may need special help because the problems are so deep-seated, a council has warned.

In July a group of residents from Hyde Park, Leeds told the city council that they needed help in beating anti-social behaviour and improving damaged community relations.

The council has now responded to the delegation's complaints point-by-point in a report to its executive board, which meets on Wednesday.

The report quotes from the residents' deputation and provides answers to each of their main concerns.

On the subject of community tensions, the deputation said: "The people living in Hyde Park come from widely different population groups... these groups have very different customs, needs and living styles and this can provoke high levels of tension in the area."

In response, the council says the 28 per cent ethnic minority population, coupled with 40,000 students, does lead to tensions but that work is taking place to bring people together.

This includes a multi-faith forum, a cricket competition and activities which bring old and young together.

Work is also being carried out to build relationships between police and Muslims which "are particularly important after the area's connection to the London bombings on 7th July 2005", the report says.

The Shebab project introduces young Muslims to role models from sport and culture and also runs scholars' talks to counter extremist ideologies.

On overcrowding, the deputation said "a major factor in Hyde Park's suffering is its high level of population density", a fact of life which the council admitted is unlikely to change in the near future despite efforts to stem the loss of family homes to student flat conversions.

Residents also complained that their streets were lined with "cheap and unhealthy takeaways, letting agents and boarded-up shop fronts".

In response, the council said that Hyde Park Corner and Headingley are thriving shopping areas and work had taken place to ensure a good mix of outlets.

Residents also complained that crime and anti-social behaviour are getting worse.

Figures show that overall crime across Hyde Park and Woodhouse increased by seven per cent over a year but an anti-burglary taskforce had helped reduce the number of break-ins.

Lack of pride in the neighbourhood was also raised by residents and the council agreed that June 30, when tenancies ended at the end of the academic year, did lead to large piles of rubbish left in yards, streets and alleys.

The council said it operated a recycling scheme aimed at students and there were more rubbish collections and early morning patrols.

The report concluded that extra help may be needed to bring lasting improvements to Hyde Park.

"The council acknowledges that because of the very particular circumstances which exist in the neighbourhood, Hyde Park faces difficult challenges which affect the quality of life of residents and that 'normal' service levels may not be sufficient to tackle some of these."

The council's executive member for neighbourhoods and housing, Coun Peter Gruen, and the director of environment and neighbourhoods, Neil Evans, are working with local ward councillors and residents to agree short and long-term action to improve the neighbourhood, the report adds.

"The council will do more to enable local people to influence how services work and how local problems are tackled. Local community and voluntary groups will be invited to play an active role."