Vandals cost Hunter $32 million in five years

VANDALS have cost Lower Hunter residents more than $32 million over the past five years in malicious and senseless damage to council and railway property.

Community and business leaders told The Herald they were "fed up" with the money wasted when it could have been used to fund countless community projects.

Newcastle City Council could have built 130 new bus shelters, 117 playgrounds, 12 public toilets, 14 kilometres of cycleway or flood-lit 23 parks with the $3.68 million it spent on removing graffiti and repairing vandalism since mid-2005.

Lake Macquarie City Council spent $3.2 million in the same period, Port Stephens $850,000, Cessnock more than $500,000 and Maitland almost $350,000.

The cost of malicious damage to private businesses and households had not been estimated but Newcastle Business Chamber chief executive officer Peter Shinnick said it would also amount to millions of dollars each year.

According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics the Newcastle local government area is the second worst in the state for graffiti attacks.

Incidents of malicious damage in the city have jumped almost 25 per cent in the past decade. The biggest targets are trains, offices, businesses and community facilities such as bus shelters, parks and toilets.

RailCorp said malicious damage in the Hunter cost it about $4.8 million a year.

A RailCorp spokesman said graffiti and vandalism were taken "very seriously" and imposed a "significant cost on the community" each year.

Newcastle City Council's liveable city director Frank Cordingley said the senseless attacks on property were "extremely disappointing".

If the trend continued it could force the introduction of closed-circuit television cameras throughout the city.

He urged residents to report any incidents of graffiti immediately.

"It is not fair for one small section of the community, that clearly has no regard for others, to cost the general community significant dollars each year," Mr Cordingley said.

"The problem seems to be growing and it is very disconcerting. There is a lot more we could be doing with the money."

Mr Shinnick said many Hunter businesses could no longer get insurance because they had been hit repeatedly by "idiots" smashing windows and spray-painting buildings.

One Hunter Street business owner has had to replace his front window 10 times in the past two years, he said.

Cardiff Chamber of Commerce president and anti-graffiti campaigner Robert Denton said the situation was "infuriating" for business owners who were hit "time and time again by the same offenders".

In an effort to combat the problem Lake Macquarie City Council is seeking $150,000 funding under the Proceeds of Crime Act for a program targeting antisocial behaviour and malicious damage.

The money would be used to fund an educational program aimed at year 11 students and a community awareness scheme to increase graffiti reporting.

Last year the NSW Government introduced tough graffiti penalties and banned juveniles from carrying spray cans.

Newcastle City crime manager Detective Chief Inspector Brad Tayler described vandalism as a "huge" problem and said offenders would be prosecuted.

"It shows a complete lack of regard for other people's property," he said.

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