REPEATED PROBLEM: Business owner “in tears” over high street trouble
Stockton Town Hall, Image: LDRS
A business group boss has revealed how one shop owner was “reduced to tears” by repeated problems on Stockton’s high street.
Councillors are looking into whether a clampdown zone could be rolled out in the borough – with aggressive begging and trouble hot topics in the town centre.
Jason Maxwell, manager of the Stockton Business Improvement District (BID), didn’t hold back at Thursday’s crime and disorder select committee.
He told councillors emails he’d received from town centre firms “didn’t make for happy reading” – and revealed how upset some shop owners had been at a recent BID meeting.
Mr Maxwell said: “I had two businesses come along and one of them was in tears.
“Three times in the space of a week she had to pull someone out of her hairdresser’s because they were clearly on Spice.
“She had customers in the store and they were terrified.
“That’s three times in a week.
“She rang enforcement, she rang police, and she didn’t get an answer.
“Her query to me was – if they had sat and done that in a council officer’s office, would that have been allowed to happen a second or third time?
“I’m not sure.”
Mr Maxwell added he’d been contacted by another business whose women employees were “terrified” to go to work.
“That’s not acceptable,” he said.
“Will a PSPO deal with that? I’m not sure – I think it’s part of it.”
PSPO (public space protection orders) are zones designed to give councils and police another tool to prevent repeated problems in a given area.
They can bring fines of up to £1,000 and help build cases against troublecausers.
However, campaign group Liberty has already sounded its opposition to any potential zone in Stockton.
Aggressive begging accounts for about one in four reports made to Stockton Council’s civic enforcement service at the moment.
During the summer, Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham said traders were fed up of anti-social behaviour in the town centre.
Mr Maxwell said he believed a perception survey of the area at the moment “would be horrific” – despite the “amazing businesses and tremendous events” in the town.
He added: “For people who live within the borough, the majority of them think: “I’m not going to Stockton town centre – it’s a ghost town, it’s not safe” – and I think that’s really disappointing to hear.
“A lot of it, in my opinion, is down to the same bunch of individuals that live with alcohol and substance misuse – and I think that’s really difficult.”
Millions of pounds are spent commissioning services to help people suffering from alcohol and substance abuse problems on Teesside.
Past meetings have heard how finding a balance between enforcement and helping vulnerable people is key.
Perceptions and the “fear of crime” in the town centre in the wake of dropping reports of anti-social behaviour has also been discussed.
Stockton BID area covers from Grosvenor Casino down to Norton Road and Maxwell’s Corner, across to the Riverside, and down to Brunswick Street.
It has more than 350 members.
Mr Maxwell said the people he believed were causing the problems led “chaotic lives” which were “heartbreaking to see”.
But he questioned whether anyone had been to speak to them to find out what they wanted.
The BID manager also believed a mix of enforcement, engagement and compassion was needed – suggesting better ways of reporting problems and “contactless giving” could help alongside any PSPO launch.
Mr Maxwell said: “Businesses which have been shoplifted don’t often report it, they just write it off.
“Unless we get a full picture of exactly what’s happening, we don’t know where we’re at – and I think we’re possibly at a worse point than we’d think we are.”
He also warned of the dire consequences of not solving the problem.
Mr Maxwell said: “In my opinion, this is the biggest threat we have to the regeneration of our high street.
“It’s not about online shopping, it’s not about anything else – we have to get this right so the next generation of our town comes and are happy to use it.
“It’s day and night.
“But I think the daytime particularly for the elderly, women shopping on their own, and people coming into town, it’s really imperative we get this right.”
“Putting the wheel back on”
Former policeman Cllr Steve Matthews told the panel how he used to walk up and down the High Street on shifts.
He believed they needed to return to “real policing”.
Cllr Matthews said: “It worked – you had real police officers doing real policing and unfortunately we decided we wouldn’t police the streets any more, we’d give it to people who look like police but aren’t police and can’t actually police.”
The member for the Western Parishes also told the committee how businesses “rightly or wrongly” used to pay for policing.
He added: “On a night, the nightclubs and pubs would put money aside to pay for the real police officers to stand outside, walk up and down, make everyone feel safe and deal with public order.
“It worked. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel – we just need to put the wheel back on.”
Meanwhile, Cllr Carol Clark said there weren’t enough police officers on the street – and the “few more” new ones weren’t enough.
Later, she added: “Yes, having another 500 police in Cleveland would be fantastic but by the time we get them, that’s not solving your or everybody else’s problems.
“We need them now.”
The council is recruiting 12 extra enforcement officers at the moment to be posted to deal with aggressive begging and parking problems in the borough’s town centres.
Cllr Sylvia Walmsley said the High Street “looked beautiful” with the areas around the fountain.
But she added it was a shame they “couldn’t get to grips” with behaviour there.
“It’s a beautiful facility and it’s lovely when you do see the kids playing in there being washed by their parents.
“But then you look a little bit further and you’ve got the yobs sitting there drinking or stoned – it’s just such a shame because it’s a beautiful area and we do need to get a grip on it.”
The review continues.
Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter
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