Cycle thefts at Winchester Sports and Leisure Centre
We have been hearing reports of cycle thefts from the Winchester Sports and Leisure Centre (WSLC) in recent months. In particular, bikes have been taken despite being well secured with D-locks; seemingly angle grinders will cut though most D-locks in a minute or two. The location of the current bike parking allows thieves to operate undisturbed and provides a quick getaway route too. The parking location has been a concern from day one. CCTV is, at best, a very limited deterrent.
Some cyclists have done as much as they can by using decent locks but have still lost their bikes. A change to bike parking at WSLC is now the only likely way to improve the current situation.
Relocating the bike parking in front of the building, where there is higher foot traffic, (more chance of theft being seen) is likely to help matters. There is space to do this but maybe not the will. No doubt objections will be raised on aesthetic grounds but this should not overrule getting a decent solution.
Providing secure storage with controlled access (card entry) could be a partial solution – however it will be of no benefit to casual users who won’t have registered to use it. Cyclists will tend to choose convenience over security if they perceive the theft risk as low. It is unlikely to lead to a major reduction in theft.
Action by Winchester City Council and Everyone Active is now needed. Theft (or the risk of theft) is a deterrent to cycle use. Meanwhile some cyclists are already taking matters into their own hands and locking their bikes in a more convenient and visible location: the wooden railings along the ramp (main picture).
Cycle thefts in Winchester
Analysis of the Police Crime data shows that there were four bikes taken from WSLC in November 2021 but none during the rest of the year. Total thefts rose sharply in Winchester at the end of last year peaking in November and dropping back in December; none have been reported in January 2022. Figures for February are not available but we have heard of further thefts. These figures do not include 39 thefts from the railway station.
The crime figures are a guide but of course not everyone reports theft (only 20% to 30% of thefts are typically reported) and there will no doubt be some data processing anomalies. Digging deeper into the data, we can see the location of thefts within Winchester last year.
There were 154 reported thefts during 2021 in Winchester Policing area. None of these has resulted in a prosecution. For comparison York had a prosecution rate of 2% (742 thefts with 15 prosecutions) over the same period. There is no data on bikes being recovered. With the average value of a stolen bike being £350 this has cost cyclists £54,000 (or taking account the reporting rate of 30% £180,000) last year. Bike theft is a lucrative and low-risk activity.
The absence of prosecutions is a sign that maybe we have cleverer thieves than York, or CCTV is not producing useful evidence and/or bike theft has a low policing priority.
Figures from Winchester railway station show 39 thefts last year (data from British Transport Police is not included in local crime figures). Last October and November a bike was reported stolen every 3 days. The theft rate (1.55 thefts per 100,000 passengers) is more than twice that at Southampton Central Station. The cycle hub at the station has CCTV but is in an area of low foot traffic and is not secure. The secure parking at the station looks little used (only 3 bikes on recent visit) with the majority of bikes parked in front of the station or at the hub.
Bike parking at WSLC clearly needs a rethink and action. It highlights that bike parking design has to be properly thought out and is more than just providing a stand – something Cycle Winchester have been saying for a while. Published guidelines already exist that cover good practice, for example see https://www.bicycleassociation.org.uk/parkingstandard/. In general bike parking needs to be in public places and not out-of-sight.
Where you have regular users, such as at WSLC (members), the railway station (season tickets holders), the University and schools, providing some secure parking becomes an option; at best is only a part of the solution.
There should be notices at the most frequently targeted locations to remind riders to take basic steps such as securing their bike. It’s not unusual to see unlocked bikes in Winchester. Note that 50% of bike thefts occur from the home in the UK.
We can help ourselves by:
- Reporting thefts to the police – more reports might trigger some action.
- Ask for CCTV recordings to be reviewed (if there is coverage); don’t assume the police will do this. See https://www.winchester.gov.uk/parking/cctv. You can ask for CCTV review as a member of the public. Note the list of cameras on this website is a couple of years old and the online application is friendlier than the paper form.
- Reporting suspicious activities – especially around bike racks.
- Investing in a good lock as a deterrent (although this may only slow professional thieves or divert them to an easier target). Locks do not last forever – replace when tired.
- Lock your bike to something solid in well-lit areas preferably with a high footfall and CCTV – although don’t rely on the presence of CCTV. Lock the frame and both wheels to the stand. Make the lock and cycle hard to manoeuvre by securing the cycle as close as possible to the rack. Make sure locks cannot come into contact with the ground.
- Secure your bike at home.
- Register you bike with “Bike Register” – its free although there is a fee if you want a sticker for the bike. This will improve the chances of recovering a bike. Not too effective if the bike has been stolen for its components.
- Photograph your bike – highlighting any features that would help identify it such as paint scratches.