A PRIEST has raised concerns about needles being discarded outside a school near Cardiff Bay.
Father Dean Atkins said drug use, dealing and the scattering of drug paraphernalia in the area around St Mary’s Church on Bute Street has been a problem ever since he became the parish priest there seven years ago.
The issue apparently died down over the course of the pandemic, but Fr Atkins said it is beginning to creep back to where it was.
On the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, St Mary’s Church recently posted a number of pictures of syringes left discarded in the area.
Fr Atkins said the re-emergence of drug use and littering of needles in and around the church, which is also next to St Mary the Virgin Church in Wales Primary School, is failing pupils and their parents.
“First of all we have obviously got a concern and a compassion for those who are homeless and we are not demonising them in anyway,” said Fr Atkins.
“We have got a care and concern for those as well, but it is trying to weigh up their needs with the needs of children, families and the wider community.
“So, who takes precedent when you have got someone injecting outside a school?
“Is it that person who is injecting or is it the children and the families going to school?
“And with discarded needles, of course that is fairly dangerous.”
Cardiff Council said it is aware of the problem in the area and is working with public sector partners to tackle it.
Fr Atkins said he thinks there are a number of issues at play in facilitating the re-emergence of drug use and littering.
One factor that the priest thinks is partly responsible is the continued development of areas in Butetown.
He added: “All of the new developments around Dumballs Road mean that people who are using drugs are being pushed into the residential part of Butetown and that has been our experience in recent weeks especially.”
Recalling his own experience of seeing people taking drugs outside St Mary’s Church, Fr Atkins said he asked a group to move one morning at about 11am.
He said: “A few minutes later I passed them as I went to the shop and they were just a few hundred yards away directly outside someone’s garden gate with their trousers down, injecting in full view of all on Bute Street.
“I know it is just moving the problem on, but I think there needs to be a more joined-up approach really in terms of how they are tackling the problem in one area.
“They need to be talking to people in other areas and the community isn’t communicated with very well by stakeholders.”
Fr Atkins said that the council’s community safety team and police are aware of the problems with drug use in the area and that patrols have been escalated.
“But a lot of this is just reactionary sometimes,” he added.
“I do think perhaps more communication, involvement and empowerment of the community would certainly help. It would empower them to report issues.
“Not everyone reports everything. It becomes normal to them or they become fearful of reporting things.”
Cardiff Council ward member for Butetown, Cllr Helen Gunter, said: “We speak regularly with Father Dean Atkins and other residents about this very challenging situation and share their concerns about the number of needles regularly found in the area.
“The issues are driven by the decision some time ago to locate so many services for vulnerable people in Butetown, and exacerbated by the struggling UK economy and cost-of-living crisis.
“We have met with South Wales Police senior officers and senior councillors to discuss what can urgently be done.”
South Wales Police said it is aware of the issues occurring near St Mary’s Church and is encouraging people in the area to report incidents.
Five reports relating to drug use in the vicinity of St Mary’s Church were made to police this month.
Inspector Abi Biddle at South Wales Police said: “There has been a recent increase in reports of drug use in the vicinity of St Mary’s Church and we understand how visible drug use can affect quality of life for residents.
“As well as increased patrols to deter drug use, officer regularly scour the area for drug litter to notify the local authority which is responsible for cleaning them up.
“We will continue to work with Cardiff Council and the local health authority to address concerns about discarded needles.”
A Cardiff Council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the problem of drug paraphernalia being discarded in the area and are working with public service partners to tackle the issue.
“A cleansing team has been sent to the area today to remove the litter.
“There is CCTV provision in the area, and this will be reviewed with partners to ensure its effectiveness at discouraging criminal and antisocial behaviours.
“We recognise the vulnerabilities associated with drug use and will continue to work with partners in health to inform our harm reduction approaches.
“The possession of drugs is illegal and we will continue to work with South Wales Police and other organisations to reduce illegal drug taking on the streets of Cardiff.
“Reports allow us to better identify repeat problem areas so we encourage members of the public to let us know if discarded needles are found by calling 029 087 2087 or using the council app or webpage (Drugs or needles (cardiff.gov.uk) to report the issue, and they can be safely removed.”