Edinburgh Council sent youths on a taxpayer-funded trip to Alton Towers in a bid to curb bonfire night chaos on the streets last year, it has emerged, as the authority and emergency services step up preparations ahead of an anticipated spike in anti-social behaviour around November 5.
Similar trips are expected to be among measures being used this year as officials look to prevent a repeat of last year’s problems.
But there will be no use of a ban on the sale of fireworks, after council officials said there had not been enough time to properly consult on the use of powers handed to them in June.
The theme park excursion offered to young people in the south-east of the city – one of several areas hit by lawlessness on Guy Fawkes Night in recent years – was one of several activities offered through youth centres in the run up to and on the day, with the same approach being taken again this year.
Parts of the capital were effectively locked down on bonfire night last November, with people urged to stay at home as a result of unruly gangs setting fires on roads and aiming fireworks at cars and emergency vehicles.
Police, ambulances and fire crews were deployed to deal with incidents in Niddrie, Sighthill, Drylaw and Pilton and had petrol bombs and bricks thrown at them, leaving two officers in hospital.
Despite the efforts to reduce the number of kids behaving recklessly, councillors said 2022 was “worse than usual”.
Police Scotland had 10 ‘dispersal zones’ in place and it is understood the force will implement them all again this year, whilst mobile CCTV cameras will be sent to problem areas to identify any troublemakers.
Councillor Val Walker, convener of the Culture and Communities Committee, said following “extensive damage to property” previously the local authority was working with partners to focus on “keeping people safe”.
She said special patrols were going around the city looking out for combustible items fly-tipped in greenspaces and common stairways to get as much cleared as possible in advance of bonfire night.
“This year we’re also working with the Lothian Association of Youth Clubs looking at providing alternative activities for young people. Across the city we want a coordinated, city-wide approach to know what plans there are for bonfires and what safety measures are in place.”
Four voluntary organisations that work with young people will each be awarded a £1,000 grant to fund activities, whilst the £7,000 in total allocated for safety planning includes money for the clear up operation, waste services and CCTV and community safety night team.
The Alton Towers trip, organised by the council in collaboration with Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre, was a day/evening trip that took place on November 5th last year, but it is unclear whether it is planned again this year.
Other offerings for young people included activities at Ratho Retreat Centre, with transport provided by Lothian Buses, and “street work engagement with young people in the greater Craigmillar area”.
Cllr Walker said: “Across the city we want a coordinated, city-wide approach to know what plans there are for bonfire, what safety measures are in place, looking at the use of CCTV as well.
“I think the positive step of providing alternatives for young people rather than possibly having nothing to do and getting attracted to the idea of setting up a fire, I think that is one of the most positive ways forward.
“We’re also looking at the use of mobile CCTV so we can identify the people who are causing trouble, and of course working with the police and fire services to try to nip anything in the bud.”
Following the shocking scenes last year, with similar problems in Dundee and Glasgow, Edinburgh city councillors called for new powers from the Scottish Government to be taken advantage of to restrict the sale of fireworks and set up ‘firework control zones’ in which setting them off other than for an organised display “of essential purposes” would be illegal and punishable with a fine of up to £5,000 or as much as six months in prison.
Whilst the powers were handed to local authorities in June after Holyrood passed the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act, the council said there has not been enough time to properly consult with the public on them but hoped to have them in place for bonfire night 2024.
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