How do you solve a problem like Waverley Road?

Police investigating the murder in Waverley Road, Southsea, in January 

Picture: Jason Kay
Police investigating the murder in Waverley Road, Southsea, in January Picture: Jason Kay

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For years Waverley Road has been linked with anti-social behaviour and crime.

Once lined with guest houses, the half-mile-long Southsea street was popular with holidaymakers.

This is the big road to Southsea and they’ve let it go to rack and ruin

Concerned resident

That appeal largely eroded when Southsea declined as a resort, with the guest houses bought up for shared housing.

Decades on, there are 41 shared houses along the street – with some attracting high levels of anti-social behaviour, drug crime and disorder.

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Residents tell of running street battle

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People living in the road point to a divide between those in houses of multiple occupation (HMO) and residents in more traditional flats and houses.

They say the high concentrations of vulnerable people – sometimes up to 16 in a building and with several homes close to each other – means those with drug or alcohol addiction cannot live without temptation from others.

In turn, they say this creates a problem with anti-social behaviour, violence and drug crime, with visitors sometimes squatting in the properties.

Some residents were too frightened to give their name or age when speaking to The News, fearful of any reprisals.

One man said: ‘This is the big road to Southsea and they’ve let it go to rack and ruin.’

He added: ‘It’s terrible. I don’t know why they do it, putting all those people together, they end up in fights together. All you hear is noise and parties.’

Police and Portsmouth City Council have recently won praise for taking on the problem – tackling crime as it happens but also offering substance misuse and housing advice.

It has taken over running 20 of landlord Farokh Farokhi’s homes, including nine in Waverley Road.

The process starts last spring and means the council collect rent, spend money on improving the buildings and the landlord receives cash left over.

The interim management orders on the homes are set to end on September 23.

Councillor Steve Wemyss, cabinet member for housing, said: ‘A plan has now been agreed with the owner.

‘The Waverley Road houses will be converted into flats (with some bedsits allowed in one house), the number of tenants will be greatly reduced, and they will be rented to a different type of tenant. A different management company is in control.

‘We’re removing the orders but they will be issued again if the plan isn’t followed.’

Around 30 eviction notices were issued to residents at homes associated with the problems – 32,75 and 81 – by the landlord earlier this year.

Residents have been told a new management company has come in and instead of small bedsit rooms the buildings will eventually be converted into flats.

The News went to owner Farokh Farokhi’s home in Craneswater Avenue to ask about his plans for future management but had no reply.

A man answering the intercom at the house, fronted with high walls, security fencing and lined with CCTV, said Mr Farokhi was in Portsmouth but not in at the time.

Pressure has been building on the landlord to manage the homes since the January 1 murder of Christopher Butler, 27, by 33-year-old Brendon Willis who was squatting in 75.

Picturesque Wimbledon Park, independent Mayville High School and the street’s historic architecture all contrast with the untidy fronts of the large HMOs.

Matthew Winnington, a councillor for Eastney and Craneswater ward, said: ‘A lot of the issues have not been solved and that’s not good enough.

‘For the residents in there and the patients in the doctor’s surgery, the people who want to use that park, it’s not good enough that aspects of how HMOs are managed are impacting on everyone.

‘The landlords need to step up to the plate and sort it out, otherwise four years on we’ll be back here and it will be damaging for the community.’

Mike Forbes has owned Abbey Lodge Guest House at number 30 for about 30 years. ‘We’ve seen it all change from a lovely road full of guest houses to what it is now,’ he said.

‘What really happened was the seaside resorts started to decline and either you kept living like I have done and change with the flow or you went bust and the guest houses went bust, catering for the seaside people and just putting people up.’

Mike says there are about 16 rooms let out in the HMO near to him.

‘It’s normally not a problem, but it’s becoming a problem now and we’re right in the middle of it,’ he said.

‘It’s alcohol and drug-related and unfortunately when you get explosive mix and you add in girls with that this is what happens.’

Fellow guest house owner Richard Green has similar concerns. He has owned Moorings Guest House for about 20 years.

‘We’ve had burglaries – people broke into the sheds and garages,’ he said.

‘Somebody said we’ve got to put these houses somewhere, but do we have to put them all in one place and if we do should they be here?

‘They really should be spaced out.

‘It’s getting so bad that some of the guest houses are starting to take people (on housing benefit) because they’re not getting enough business.’

A CCTV camera has been installed on the street overlooking the HMOs near the top of the road close to Albert Road after the killing this year.

Residents say the one looking at 75 at the time of the murder had been long broken but not fixed.

Neighbourhood police have since helped establish a neighbourhood watch, which Mr Forbes now chairs.

Chief Inspector Phil Lamb is in charge of policing in Portsmouth South.

He said officers have increased their presence in the street and they want to engage with the community.

Solving the problem has become a district priority since the murder.

‘There are several large properties that house lots of people in close proximity and because of that we’ve seen an increase in anti-social behaviour,’ he said.

‘In some instances we’ve seen an increase in incidents of violence.’

After the murder of Mr Butler residents started speaking to police more, and officers put together a plan together with the housing team, the city council and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, Ch Insp Lamb said. He added: ‘It means that 24 hours a day somebody will be looking or paying attention in some way in that area. There is increased visibility (of police).’

HOUSING WAS IN POOR CONDITION

COUNCIL housing bosses have come under scrutiny.

But cabinet member Councillor Steve Wemyss says the authority has taken action.

He said: ‘Working with police, we inspected properties in Waverley Road and found the management company at the time was failing to comply with licence conditions. Properties were in poor condition and common areas neglected.

‘Last spring the council withdrew or refused licences covering more than 20 of the owner’s properties, including nine in Waverley Road.

‘Interim management orders were issued, placing the properties under the council’s control, and enabling us to use rent income to improve them.

‘The council controls the number of HMOs by requiring planning permission for shared houses and by running the licence scheme for landlords.’

CRIMES REVEAL PROBLEMS

HIGH levels of crime and anti-social behaviour have been reported.

In the 18 months to June this year, there were 224 of both – about one every two days. Of those, 75 were recorded as having no conviction.

Police received reports of 37 violent and sex crimes, 12 public order incidents, 104 reports of bad behaviour, 12 burglaries and 12 drug crimes.

A spike of 29 incidents were recorded in June, during the busy summer.