It is just over a year ago that we brought together the Eston Hills Action Group, after a wave of anti-social behaviour, vandalism and arson on the Eston Hills.
There are crime and ASB issues right across the area which we are working to tackle, but it was just as important to protect the Hills which were such an open and dangerous target, drawing away emergency resources from elsewhere.
Lots of thoughts and ideas came out of the first public meeting and since then the group have been working to deliver improvements. I think it is safe to say a lot of progress has been made and the result so far have been positive.
Chaired by Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger, the action group includes the Police, the Fire Brigade, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, and Friends of Eston Hills.
Earlier this month we called another meeting with those who had expressed an interest to look back on what has been achieved and where more needs to be done. Here are some of changes that have been delivered:
*Removal of burnt out vehicles by the council and continued monitoring
*Installation of new barriers and gates at key access points
- A174 Lazenby by pass layby access – New lockable steel Gate installed
- A174 Lazenby Footway access – Step over style installed
- Flats Lane NHS access – Large concrete pipes filled with soil and large areas of tipped bunding to prevent access
- Flats Lane South Access – New fencing and step over style
- Occupation Road – 2 new lockable steel gates (one with step over for horses) and steel post fencing
*Trenches and concrete blocks also used to harden targets and made crime more difficult
*Use of drones to monitor activity on the hills
*Engaging with schools and youth clubs to educate young people about the impact of crime and ASB
*Police Operation Endurance against off road biking
*Section 59 signage allowing the seizure of offending vehicles
These are all positive improvements that have been achieved because all of the organisations have worked together to come up with a joint plan.
At the meeting we also spoke about the next steps and the improvements that still need to be made.
Land ownership has been a big challenge, especially when burnt out vehicles have been left on land where no one has a claim on the area. The adjacent woodland (Lazenby woods) was one of these areas and removal of cars proved to be really difficult here. The Tees Valley Wildlife Trust are currently going through the process of purchasing the woodland which will mean they have responsibility for this area going forward. The action group look forward to working with them to keep this area safe.
There are also remaining access points which still require hardening work, particularly the Flatts Lane NHS centre area. There are two proposed options and funding is currently being explored.
1 – Existing Main Site Barrier Gates. Repairing and then locking barriers out of normal business hours. Additional barriers would be needed to reduce the width of the pedestrian access points to prevent unauthorised bikes. This option would limit access by emergency services and others.
2 - Installation of Physical Barriers within the site so the main building can be accessed whilst preventing access to the hills beyond. This could include security aesthetic boulders/rockery and a steel barrier/gate.
As we get into the summer and the weather improves, I hope more people will be venturing out to enjoy Eston Hills and the surrounding countryside. The improvements made so far should mean that is a safer and much more enjoyable experience for people.
Remember: If you are on the hills and witness any crime or anti-social behaviour, please report it to the Police on 101 for non-emergencies or 999 if the situation is urgent.
The Ice and Fire archaeology team also had an excellent season of fieldwork up on the hills last summer which they say ‘exceeded all expectations’. They carried out geophysical surveys, wetland coring, test pit excavations with features and made some ‘truly exceptional finds’. I was pleased to have the opportunity to go and visit the team hard at work and was amazed to hear about the history that is right here on our doorstep. The team are keen for more of the community to get involved, so if you are interested please take a look at their website. There is also a report on there with their initial findings and they hope to set up museum displays so people can find out more.