Safer space strategy agreed by West Lothian Council

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QR codes on benches could be used to help create safer streets for women and girls in West Lothian.

The scanning codes would allow people to privately record areas they feel are threatening as part of a range of work being considered as the draft policy is implemented.

Better street lighting and well maintained pathways will be the most obvious physical change to West Lothian as a direct result of the council’s new safety for women and girls policy.

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That’s the promise in the draft proposals agreed by the Community Safety Board this week: to create an environment that is less threatening to women and girls especially at night.

As part of this the council is considering working with StreetSafe, a new tool being developed by the Home Office where women and girls can privately record spaces where they don’t feel safe via their mobile phone.

This will enable the police and local authorities to pinpoint areas which need improvement.

Contact points for StreetSafe could be included in QR codes installed on street furniture.

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The council has allocated £200,000 to implement first step confidence building initiatives arising from the recommendations which came out of the survey late last year.

QR codes on benches could appear on Linlithgow High Street. Stock Picture Michael Gillen.QR codes on benches could appear on Linlithgow High Street. Stock Picture Michael Gillen.
QR codes on benches could appear on Linlithgow High Street. Stock Picture Michael Gillen.

Council officers from Operational services will now carry out a visual audit around the county highlighting areas where more public space lighting is needed and where shrubbery and overhanging trees makes footpaths narrow and create a more threatening environment.

Julie Whitelaw, interim head of cCustomer services, told a meeting of the Community Safety Board: “This funding will be used to support delivery of the action plan, including £100,000 towards identification of locations which would benefit from additional street lighting /cutting and pruning of shrubbery and the delivery of additional street lighting and cutting back of shrubbery; £30,000 to provide personal safety alarms, £15,000 towards purchase, maintenance and operation of mobile CCTV and £25,000 to support a communications/ awareness raising campaign across West Lothian which will include use of media channels and the development of a StreetSafe Tool.”

The remaining £30,000 will be available for one-off projects which are identified by the Community Safety partners in the process of the further development of the plan actions.

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The new policy also draws together partnerships with the police and Third Sector groups which offer support. It also embraces successful schemes already up and running which offer safe space to vulnerable people.

These schemes include ‘Ask for Angela’, a code phrase allowing vulnerable women to get help from staff in hospitality venues, and ‘Ask for Ani’, a similar system where victims of domestic abuse can ask for help through pharmacy staff.

Other initiatives could include safe transport for staff from late night hospitality venues through local taxi firms.

On a wider level the policy also moves into schools helping to educate teens and children, including boys , about respect and in the longer term aims to change attitudes to domestic abuse, bullying and consent.

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The policy will also have input from he police working to inform pupils about cyber stalking, cyber pornography and gender based bullying online.

Kirsteen Sullivan, depute Labour group leader and chair of the Community Safety Board, hoped that other partners, including Police Scotland, could contribute financially to the programme.

Local area commander Chief Inspector Alun Williams said he thought the principle contribution from the force would be in hours put in by staff to carry out parts of the scheme including public engagement.

Bathgate’s councillor Charles Kennedy welcomed the commitment to improving streetscapes to make them safer but asked for a more proactive responses to dealing with complaints about overgrown shrubbery making footpaths more dangerous

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Councillor Sullivan, said: “I am delighted to see the draft action plan move forward at pace, especially after so many women, girls and local organisations took the time to complete the survey.

"It incorporates a comprehensive set of actions spanning areas such as education around consent and cyber-crimes to the physical environment, safety initiatives such as ASK for ANGELA and ASK FOR ANI, and measures that could be implemented for lone female workers.

“Along with the development of a new Street Safe tool and further use of mobile CCTV, these actions will help provide reassurance and increase confidence to women and girls as they go about their daily lives.

“We shouldn’t have to feel restricted as to when we can go out on our own or that we have to walk home with our keys between our fingers.

"My thanks to all community safety partners who have contributed to the development of this plan and who are committed to implementing these critical actions.”