Published: 17:36, 19 June 2019
| Updated: 14:28, 21 June 2019
Private landowners who refuse to have graffiti removed from their properties are to be fined or prosecuted under new proposals.
The move was approved at a meeting of Maidstone Borough Council's Community, Housing and Environment Committee on Tuesday, despite fears it was punishing victims of crime.
The council routinely removes such vandalism in the public realm for free, charging only for graffiti on larger commercial premises, which require specialist equipment.
However, a disclaimer is required for the removal of any writing or drawings from private land due to the small risk of damage due to use of a high-pressure jet washer.
Immediate action is taken to remove sexually offensive or racist graffiti, regardless of location, the council insists.
Seventy-seven reports of graffiti have been made to the local authority over the past 12 months, with the town centre, Ringlestone and Shepway identified as particular hotspots.
This is more than double the 33 reports received in 2017 and almost treble the 26 incidents in 2016.
As a result, Cllr Jonathan Purle (Cons) requested a committee discussion on how to deal with the growing problem across the borough, particularly in areas near Maidstone East station.
The committee's report said that despite assurances from Network Rail, which owns much of the affected property, that the graffiti would be removed, it never was.
An enforcement process has now been drawn up, which bosses hope should provide an incentive for landowners to agree to having the graffiti removed.
The first step would be to provide commercial premises with a ‘low level’ awareness letter with details of the location of the graffiti, the removal service the council provides and next steps if no action takes place.
If no response is received, a Community Protection Warning will be sent to the owner, saying it needs to be removed within a set period of time, most likely to be 14 days.
A Community Protection Notice requiring its removal may then be issued and if the works have still not been completed, the owner could be hit with a £100 fine.
Furthermore, the council may seek to prosecute the landowner for failure to comply the notice and could seek legal costs, depending on the size of the graffiti, how offensive it is and how long it has been there.
Cllr Purle said: “Maidstone really needs cleaning-up. Unfortunately, some people have become immune to just how grotty some bits of town look.
"Even in some of the nicer suburban areas like my ward, its so obvious more work is needed. But the crossing next to Maidstone East Station is something else.
"How are we ever going to encourage some civic pride when large heavily-used places like this are allowed to go to rack-and-ruin by their owners?
"Many people in my part of town pay the railway thousands of pounds a year, and it's intolerable that they’re such bad neighbours at times.
“It can be excruciating at times how slowly Maidstone Council works but here is a bit of progress at last.”
A Network Rail spokesman said: "We understand the impact graffiti can have on local communities and we’re committed to removing any offensive graffiti within 24 to 48 hours of it being reported to us.
“However, due to the scale of the problem across the network, we do not have the funding to remove all graffiti as it appears.
“We have a stark choice between using those funds to maintain the railway or remove graffiti. We do remove graffiti when we renovate structures and work with police on preventative measures to stop trespass on the railway.
“We are currently in discussions with the local council to explore the options available.”