No-Go Britain: 'Why won't you live here?' residents ask their councillor: After our report last week some politicians cried 'stigmatisation'. Peter Victor visited Hull and Devon

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The Independent Online
THE Water Board man in Plymouth was amused by our wish to visit North Prospect Estate. 'Swilly', as it used to be named, is well known throughout Plymouth. 'It's just up there and off to the left, lads. And if you see a cat that's still got two ears, it's there on holiday.' He drove off laughing.

But local councillor Brian Rider is not amused. The Independent on Sunday had stigmatised the estate, he said. It was irresponsible, part of a conspiracy by 'the local rag' to do down the estate. Why pick on North Prospect? The tirade halted when I passed on a question from the residents of the estate: 'Would Councillor Rider like to leave his nice house in Ham and come to live on North Prospect?'

'Look,' he said. 'I'm not a wealthy man. I'm a postman. I live just over the road. Sure, the estate has its problems. But they're nothing like Toxteth, or Pennywell in Sunderland]'

His anger was echoed across the country after our report last week on no-go Britain, which examined crime and violence in 40 areas around the country. Letters flooded in decrying the 'stigmatisation' of the areas featured in the piece. Radio stations in a dozen towns and cities held talk-ins; television crews and reporters visited the areas.

MPs fired off letters. A few residents blamed local authorities. Local authority officers and politicians insisted their estates were no worse than anywhere else and that where problems remained they were the fault of the Government. Each letter invited reporters from the Independent on Sunday to visit their estate, accompanied by them, to see the positive side of their area.

We went to North Prospect in Plymouth without chaperones, descending into the estate from the road which borders it to the north. A few of the semi- detached houses were nicely kept, with leaded lights and tidy gardens. Many were run-down and crumbling. Some stood empty, burned, with shattered windows and gardens filled with waste. At the back vandals had smashed holes in the brickwork. No one knew why. Some of the roads on the estate had been shut off. Metre-wide speed humps had been laid in the tarmac to deter joyriding by local youths. Three young men ignored them, rolling by in a rusting beige Nissan and eyeing us suspiciously before spinning the car 180 degrees and driving off.

One couple with five children said they never let them play outside their garden for fear they would be knocked down and killed. Which was the worst bit? 'Its all the worst. They come roaring around in cars. Come back tonight, you'll see what goes on around here.' No, they wouldn't be named. We couldn't take pictures of them, or their house: 'I don't want my house vandalised. Yes that bloody well would happen. I have to live round here.'

'Fred', 27, was the first to voice the question that bamboozled Councillor Rider. 'He wouldn't want to come and live here. No one in Plymouth would come and live here if they had the choice.' A disabled ex-serviceman and unemployed, like many on the estate, on Friday he was still recovering from a beating he endured last year with clubs and bats. Neighbours saw what happened but would not come forward; charges against his attackers were dropped.

'There are lots of problems here with vandalism and theft but you don't say anything if you don't want your house firebombed. The police don't come around much, they get such abuse.' I pointed out I'd seen a police car earlier on. He arched one eyebrow: 'It's not dark yet.'

His children are not allowed out to play beyond their back garden. 'The road humps don't stop these mad kids in cars. They just use them as take-off ramps. You could have a word with them. But you'd start out facing two - and end up against 80 of their mates.'

Then we met Councillor Rider. Why had we not reported the positive things on the estate, such as the Garage Project, the community development work? 'You were on the estate, did you see any joyriders?' Yes. 'Well I'm not saying it doesn't happen. But this estate is no worse than anywere else. The buildings are 70 years old and we are being stopped from spending our own capital receipts money by the government. We took over three years ago after 30 years of Tory neglect. The media is victimising a community that's starting to get over its problems.'

Three hundred and forty seven miles north, in Hull, Daryl Stephenson, the City Council's chief executive, said there were no 'no-go' areas in his area. There were problems but they 'do not stand out as exceptional', he said.

Last week a Housing Action Trust was restoring the Orchard Park Estate. Similar work, this time by a housing association, was taking place in Greatfield. But the people who actually live in the worst of these estates viewed itas 'too little, too late, too slow'.

Annandale Road runs through Greatfield Estate. By the roadside where housing is being gutted, re-roofed and refurbished, there are large mounds of spoil. Marie Travis, 27, a housewife with three small boys recently found one of them playing with a syringe left there. 'Look at the state of it round here. Do the councillors come? They do nowt] You can't leave anything around here without it being nicked.'

I walked around to speak to a couple in their front garden. Robbed the first time by a gang who came to the back door with a van, the couple showed me where the second bunch of raiders had kicked in the front door in full view of the street.

'This street is supposed to be widely known for prostitution and crime,' said the woman, 25. Born in Hull, but half South American, she said there was also a lot of racism in the area. 'Not to your face, but people do say things.'

'It's like the Bronx round here,' the man said. Surely some exaggeration? 'Well, the police don't get out of their vans,' he said. I told him the chief constable had written to us to say bobbies patrol on foot, day and night, on their own. He snorted and pointed to a spot across the road. 'The police came to see someone in that house. When they came out the kids had taken the wheels off the police car.'

Neither would give their name, though they allowed themselves to be photographed. As a nervous neighbour moved out of the lens' focus, he said: 'Don't go flashing that camera around here. You'll get robbed]'

(Photographs omitted)

Letters, page 22