A SPATE of anti-social behaviour and vandalism in Witney has prompted calls for increased youth services in the town.

In recent months, cases have included the arrest of three teenagers when a village hall party turned violent and fireworks being 'fired at teenagers from a van'.

Witney Town Councillor Laura Price believes a 'void' in support for young people has contributed and wants to explore options for sustainable youth work in the town.

On Monday, the council passed a motion proposed by Ms Price calling for relevant groups to come together to tackle the issue with an 'urgent forum', which could take place next month.

Since 2011, Oxfordshire County Council has drastically scaled back youth services, while charity Base 33, which supported hundreds of vulnerable and disadvantaged children, closed its doors last year.

Ms Price said: “Even when we had Base 33 I would have said we needed an increase in youth work provision.

“It’s left a huge void in the town.

“Most people know about the importance of provision and having a network of support all the way through childhood. If people don’t have that they will come together to find entertainment, and there’s not always an acceptable way of doing that.”

The South Ward Councillor added: “We get regular updates and can see there has been an increase in anti-social behaviour and vandalism.

“This hasn’t just been since the closure of Base 33, but since the incremental closure of the youth service in 2011."

Thames Valley Police reports on Witney community policing issues at town council meetings, with several cases of anti-social behaviour and vandalism occurring in the town since the start of October alone.

Last month, two perspex panels at Newland bus shelter were damaged in two separate attacks, destroying an art instillation created by students at Abingdon and Witney College.

Earlier in November, residents on Burwell Meadow and Burwell Drive described seeing fireworks aimed at a group of teenagers in Witney from a van.

In October, police issued a warning after an invitation to a Halloween rave in Madley Park encouraged people to bring ‘fireworks, flares, masks, smoke bombs, speakers and alcohol’ and be ‘ready to run from fed’ (the police).

Arguably the most serious incident came on October 6, when three teenagers, including a 14-year-old boy, were arrested after a party at Burwell Hall attended by more than 200 people turned violent.

Police from both inside and outside the area were called to assist police community support officers (PCSOs), during which officers had items thrown at them and were kicked and spat at.

The issue was discussed at a town council meeting two days later, attended by PC Chris Cochrane from the Witney team.

The minutes of that meeting state: “Both Councillors and the police agreed that the loss of youth services had been detrimental and may contribute to ASB.

“A member felt that a round table multi-agency meeting would be helpful which Sgt. Cochrane agreed with.”

In 2011, seven early intervention youth hubs, including one in Witney, opened their doors after funding was cut for 13 youth centres across the county.

The West Oxfordshire Early Intervention Hub, based on Witan Way, later transitioned into the Children and Family Centre.

Charities sought to fill the void, but the closure of Base 33 last November left a gap in youth support in the area.

Now Ms Price, who is also a county councillor for Witney South & Central, wants to use the town council's position to provide a solution.

She said: “I’m not saying you can turn it around overnight.

“Youth work isn’t just about providing a hall with a tuck shop and ping pong.

“Having professional youth workers who know how to engage and provide a safe space is absolutely crucial."

Oxfordshire County Council spokesperson Paul Smith insisted the local authority was committed to youth provision.

He said: “The children’s social care budget in Oxfordshire is set to double from £46m in 2011 to £95m in 2023.

"As part of that, posts have been created in early help and edge of care services, there’s a specialist exploitation team, new care homes and supported housing and supported lodgings for young people.

"The county council still has a standalone Youth Justice Team and Education, Employment and Training Service.

"The voluntary sector remains a real contributor to youth services throughout Oxfordshire.

"More is spent on services for young people, not less when compared to 2011 – even if that spend is directed at those most in need.”

At Monday's meeting, South Ward councillor David Harvey was elected town council leader until May, with Harry Eaglestone, of West Ward, becoming deputy leader.

Mr Harvey had been acting leader after previous council chief Dean Temple resigned in October.