Maitland Council tackles 'youth battleground'

 THE Rutherford Shopping Centre, described as a youth ‘‘battleground’’ in the past, is the subject of an experiment on which many hopes ride.

Maitland City Council has stepped in to stop vandalism and resolve tense conflict between angry retailers, whose premises have been badly damaged, and young people who feel badly treated.

A possible solution the Rutherford Protocol, a document that sets out handling troublemakers in a unified way across the shopping area that ensures young people are dealt with fairly.

It sets out rights and responsibilities of retailers and young people and a table of consequences.

Swearing, spitting and littering will result in a banning notice, while police are called out to more serious offences.

 Cr Henry Meskauskas says the protocol has taken three years to develop.

‘‘The council, residents, youth, retailers, police, youth workers, Department of Housing ... they’ve come up with something that we can move forward with,’’ Cr Meskauskas said.

Rutherford Action Group convener and Youth Express partnership broker Jane Thompson said the shopping centre was part of the problem because it was made up of many different shops, old and new, owned by different people.

‘‘Some shop owners clean up [graffiti] some don’t ... there are lots of nooks and crannies and laneways,’’ she said.

Stockland Green Hills introduced a similar, but less formal approach several years ago

This used contracted security guards and it was described as a success.

Cr Meskauskas said vandals had caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage over the years.

Cr Philip Penfold said he was concerned the document over-emphasised the rights of young people rather than explaining what behaviour was expected of them.

The protocol, to be debated at tonight’s council meeting, will be distributed to schools and businesses in the Rutherford area.

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