How one city made itself a far safer place

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Indy Politics

Steve Ayris can remember a time when it seemed as if every second flat in his Sheffield tower block was burgled. Petty crime and housebreaking were rife. He had one car stolen and another broken into.

Steve Ayris can remember a time when it seemed as if every second flat in his Sheffield tower block was burgled. Petty crime and housebreaking were rife. He had one car stolen and another broken into.

Now, 25 years after he moved into Norfolk Park, a once crime-ridden estate south of the city centre, the picture is very different. Most of its 15 tower blocks are being replaced with low-rise housing and crime has subsided.

"My experience was of a steady deterioration in standards of the property, matched by a high degree of vandalism and an increase in burglaries," Mr Ayris, a Liberal Democrat councillor, said. "Burglary rates have certainly come down and there doesn't seem to be the same rate of car thefts there used to be."

Sheffield, despite the traumas of industrial decline and unemployment, is now one of the safest cities in England and Wales, according to Home Office figures released yesterday.

With a population of 531,000, the city's rate for violence against the person stood last year at 5.5 per 1,000 people, one-quarter or one-third of the figure for Birmingham, Leicester, Liverpool or Nottingham. Sexual offences and robbery figures are the lowest, at 0.4 per cent. Vehicle crimes are also among the lowest of comparable cities, with thefts and robberies at 10.4 and 14.6 respectively.

Mr Ayris, the council's social exclusion spokesman, said the authority's "enthusiastic" partnership with South YorkshirePolice, the Probation Service and local voluntary groups had had a significant impact. The Safer Sheffield Steering Group had tackled persistent offenders, found innovative ways of reducing burglary and had a dedicated youth offenders' team and a family support project for "at risk" young offenders.

"I think Sheffield has got community policing right. My experience with the local bobby on the beat is that they're very effective," he said.

The picture across the Pennines in Manchester, which is enjoying a renaissance, could not be more stark. Its 429,000 citizens last year endured the worst crime rate of the big cities. Violence against the person stands at 27.3 per 1,000, sexual offences at 1.6 per 1,000 and burglaries at 24.4 per 1,000. Car crime is among the worst.

These figures have disturbed the city council, and will be raised in a meeting between the Chief Constable, David Wilmott, and Kath Robinson, the deputy council leader, next week. Ms Robinson insists that the local crime partnership has successful projects. It has new "city rangers" on patrol, active training of club bouncers, closedircuit television schemes, 23 local action partnerships and heavy use of anti-social behaviour orders. Crime fell by 7 per cent in the city centre and by 22 per cent in east Manchester.

Yet Manchester also has four universities, drugs-fuelled gang warfare, and endemic poverty levels, which leave 73 per cent of people living in council tax band A homes.

"I don't know how we can account for these figures," she conceded. "We've lots of positive things happening, so it's quite a surprise and a shock to see figures like this."

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