MORELAND City Council has begun a $64,000 blitz to remove graffiti from shops and residential properties in Brunswick and neighbouring suburbs following an explosion of low-level vandalism during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The blitz will continue until the end of June in response to concern about the visual impact of graffiti and tagging particularly in retail activity zones like Sydney Road.
The Sydney Road Business Association recently met with Victoria Police to discuss graffiti and vandalism prevention strategies.
Although it is a criminal offence, the vast majority of graffiti incidents are not reported to police with just 48 graffiti crimes in Brunswick, Brunswick West and Brunswick East last year. That was actually a decline on the 52 in 2020 and 53 in 2019.
The council has allocated $64,000 to graffiti removal for the rest of this financial year out of $975,000 in recent grant funding from the Victorian Government’s COVIDSafe Outdoor Activation Fund.
Councillors considered but did not go ahead with a $20,000 graffiti removal blitz when it adopted the current budget this time last year, but an additional $61,357 has been allocated to a ‘Collaborative Graffiti Intervention Program’ in the 2022-23 council budget.
Deputy Mayor Lambros Tapinos, who represents the South Ward which includes Brunswick, said it was demoralising for shop owners who experienced a loss of trade during COVID to now have to deal with the graffiti problem.
“It seems to me over the lockdown period we saw a lot more graffiti in our activity areas and a lot of it is still there and I think it’s a real shame, particularly for our local business community who have suffered for so long to go to their shops one day and find their shops have been vandalised and graffitied,” he said.
“I think we as a council have an obligation to do everything we can to support, particularly at this time, those businesses reopening their doors and trading successfully again post-COVID.
“And one of the small things we can do is provide greater amenity and beautification.
“That also goes beyond graffiti removal but certainly graffiti at the moment seems to be a very noticeable thing in our activity centres that should be removed.”
One of the worst spots for graffiti in Brunswick is Victoria Street on both sides of Sydney Road. The problem is also noticeable closer to Brunswick Road, where the windows and front walls of a number of vacant buildings are covered in graffiti.
Graffiti in and around Sydney Road.
Moreland is not alone in experiencing an increase in graffiti, vandalism and litter with other inner city councils also combatting similar problems.
The City of Melbourne removed nearly 10,000 square metres of graffiti from the CBD in a March blitz. The amount of graffiti removed from the CBD in a normal month has increased from 4000 square metres in 2019 to more than 6500 square metres in 2021.
While no equivalent statistics are available for Moreland, Sydney Road Business Association manager Troy Stuchbree said the amount of graffiti and tagging had rated as a major concern in a recent survey of traders in the shopping strip.
“Definitely a lot of the traders and shop owners are aware of the problem on Sydney Road, Brunswick,” he said.
“Anecdotally traders are saying that during the lockdown when there was less [shopping] activity and not as much surveillance, graffiti increased.”
Mr Stuchbree said traders were concerned that the amount of graffiti was off-putting to shoppers and visitors alike.
“I think it would have a fairly significant impact on the visitor experience when you arrive on Sydney Road to find there’s lots of beautiful buildings impacted by graffiti,” he said.
Nicholas Ross, the owner of a second-hand bookshop near the corner of Sydney Road and Weston Street, said it was a constant battle to keep on top of graffiti and tagging at the entrance of his business.
He said he would clean up graffiti several times a year but it was usually tagged again within weeks.
The SRBA recently met with officers from the Brunswick Police Station to discuss prevention strategies, and is currently preparing information resources for traders.
Moreland Council has in place a program to remove graffiti on council-owned and managed assets such as buildings, playgrounds, public toilets, signs, light poles, and street furniture, but council officers are unable to remove graffiti from private properties unless they obtain permission from the resident or business owner first.
This is difficult in situations where a property is vacant and may be awaiting redevelopment, as is the case with several large properties in Sydney Road.
However a process is underway to gain owner consent and inform them that the graffiti removal blitz is a one-off opportunity created by the extra state government funding.
For vacant buildings, council officers are implementing an opt-out rather than opt-in process for graffiti removal.
The council is looking at recommencing a program of graffiti removal by young offenders in partnership with the Department of Justice and Community Safety that was paused during COVID. It also attempts to discourage tagging by commissioning original street art at some prominent locations.