Sunderland councillors have backed calls to develop an action plan to help tackle the issue of “nuisance motorbikes” on Wearside.
The issue of anti-social motorbike and quad bike use was the focus of the latest meeting of Sunderland City Council at City Hall.
A motion raised by the council’s opposition Liberal Democrats, entitled nuisance motorbikes, said residents were “losing faith in the ability of the police to address the problem”.
The motion asked city leaders to present an action plan to full council by the end of January, 2024, setting out measures to restrict access for motorbikes and quad bikes to parks and open spaces in “problem areas of the city”.
Calls were also made for the council’s chief executive to make representations to the region’s police and crime commissioner and to Central Government for more resources to tackle the problem.
Sunderland City Council’s Labour Group amended the motion, which kept many of the original pledges including lobbying government for more resources.
However the amended motion made clear that an action plan within six months would detail how the council would work with partners to restrict access for motorbikes.
Councillor Claire Rowntree, deputy leader of the council, said the local authority aimed to work proactively with partners to develop “innovative and new ways to really tackle these problems”.
This ranged from blocking entrances and “designing out” anti-social behaviour to the use of drones, with a “collective approach” needed going forward to benefit all city residents.
Councillor Paul Stewart, Labour cabinet secretary, added:“We cannot achieve all of this as a council, we cannot achieve all of this as a police force, there needs to be joint working throughout”.
During the meeting many councillors shared their frustration with the issue of anti-social motorcycle use.
Councillor Paul Edgeworth, Liberal Democrat Group leader on the council, said the issue was impacting residents’ ability and willingness to engage with green spaces across the city.
While acknowledging that tackling the issue was “not straightforward”, the councillor raised concerns that some residents had “lost faith in the willingness of the police to respond to this issue”.
Cllr Edgeworth said: “Whenever you knock on doors or run a residents’ survey this is the top issue for us and I’m sure it’s the top issue for everyone from all parties in all parts of the city.
“I think local people aren’t interested in the blame game, I’m certainly not, I don’t care about taking credit or anything, this is one of those issues that people just want something to be done about.”
Labour councillor Iain Scott said it was important to encourage residents to report issues and that community intelligence was key in making an impact in terms of arrests.
Elsewhere, Conservative councillor Michael Hartnack noted the dangers of off-road motorcycles and high-powered illegal electric motorcycles to all road users and wider communities.
Cllr Hartnack, a former senior police officer, suggested Northumbria Police’s previous results in tackling issues were not just about lack of resources but the “risk-averse approach” directed to frontline officers, including a “no pursue policy”.
The councillor added there were “lessons to be learned” from other police forces in terms of successful initiatives elsewhere in the country.
Labour councillor Michael Butler said it was “important to acknowledge that people who ride motorbikes need somewhere to go” and that the motorbike community should be involved in helping to develop any future action plan.
Labour councillor Harry Trueman also welcomed calls to lobby Government for more police resources but suggested the motorbike issue was now more complex following the “worrying” rise of electric motorcycles and e-scooters.
Cllr Trueman added: “I think that the electric bikes and scooters should be looked at, some legislation brought out.
“I think it should be mandatory that anyone who rides a cycle, whether it is pedalled, electric or powered by petrol, wears a helmet at least”.
After being put to the vote the amended motion on nuisance motorbikes won unanimous support across the council chamber.
Councillors from Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties on the council also took the opportunity to quiz police bosses on the nuisance motorbikes issue at the council meeting on September 13, 2023.
This was during a question and answer session with the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Kim McGuinness and new Northumbria Police chief constable Vanessa Jardine.
The chief constable said it was “difficult” to pursue many off-road bikers but that “doesn’t mean to say that we’re not committed to tackling this criminality which really does impact our communities”.
Some recent initiatives in Sunderland have included a trial of drones to track motorbike riders, as well as a dedicated operation to tackle the issue.
This operation saw arrests made, dispersal notices issued, a number of bike seized, 21 stop and searches and five successful prosecutions for driving offences, with police chiefs urging the public to continue to report issues.
Northumbria PCC Kim McGuinness added: “As well as the ongoing police response I’m currently awaiting sign-off from the Home Office for a new fund to create a tackling motorcycle ASB unit.
“I think it’s ridiculous that I need sign-off from an official in Whitehall 300 miles away to get this money, they simply have absolutely no belief in the merits of devolution and local decision-making.
“But that said in the coming weeks you will see much more activity on motorcycle ASB with the work that the chief constable has undertaken and I will come back to you with an update on whether we get that money because it would be very welcome.”