Property: Locks won't help, so party

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The Independent Online
DARRAS HALL, Ponteland, is the most salubrious address for commuters to Newcastle upon Tyne, with prices starting at about pounds 250,000. The area, some seven miles north of the city and within easy reach of the airport, is the No 1 choice for business people and wealthy civic dignitaries. Last week, the residents asked their local community security committee to consider fencing Darras Hall off from the public - in particular, from burglars. Their plan includes erecting barriers at the ends of five roads leading into the estate, and introducing 24-hour security patrols and street cameras.

When I trained as a journalist in Newcastle, I was sent to Darras Hall on what was called a 'district drive'. This did not mean you were provided with a car; quite the opposite. The intention was to walk the streets, reading noticeboards, talking to shopkeepers and shoppers, and generally picking up the kind of local news you never obtain on the telephone.

In Darras Hall, this was particularly difficult. There were no shops then and few pavements - and it was only after an hour of stumbling around that I realised no one, apart from me, was walking; the only people I saw were swinging out of long drives in cars. So it is not surprising that the large houses behind high hedges and big front gardens are a popular target for criminals - and it is easy to understand the residents' exasperation.

But if you ask a police officer the best way to protect your street from burglars, he or she will normally advise you to get to know your neighbours. Our local bobby reckons the most effective aspect of the Neighbourhood Watch schemes is that they bring neighbours together.

One resident who opposes the plan to fence in Darras Hall is Sir Stanley Bailey, former chief constable of Northumbria Police; he has no wish to live in a 'private prison'. Perhaps he should suggest to his neighbours that, instead of spending money on gates and cameras, they should throw a few good parties.

THE ENGLISH are obsessed with restoring dilapidated properties, yet few have the skills required. Too often, what appeared to be a cheap, simple job turns into a long, drawn-out nightmare of unreliable workmen and unfinished work.

Next month, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings is running a two-day, non-residential weekend course in London to explain the rudiments of house restoration. It promises basic advice on such problems as damp-proofing, pointing, plastering, timber decay and interiors, and an Any Questions session. The course, aimed at all kinds of home-owners, not just those who live in ancient buildings, is being held at the Artworkers' Guild, 6 Queen Square, London WC1, on 5 and 6 February, and costs pounds 95. For further details, contact the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) at 37 Spital Square, London E1 6DY (071-377 1644).

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