'Town centre has slipped back' with problems with drugs, anti-social behaviour and begging says Doncaster business owner
A Doncaster business owner has said the town centre has 'slipped back’ to previous problems with anti-social behaviour, drug use and begging.
Dominic Gibbs, who runs the Diamond Lounge on Wood Street initially praised Doncaster Council and South Yorkshire Police in tackling the problems following a massive public backlash last year.
The ‘Clean Up Doncaster Town Centre’ Facebook page which is prolific in highlighting incidents from fly-tipping to Spice use, now has nearly 9,500 members.
The group was set up in response to growing complaints from residents and business owners in the town centre.
The council and police under some pressure got involved to tackle the behaviour and set up a 10-point action plan.
Doncaster Council even dipped into reserve funds to pay for extra police patrols across the town centre.
Both the local authority and the police received praise for their efforts but Mr Gibbs said the business community feels the problems have come back.
Mr Gibbs added people are telling him they are still shunning the town centre in favour of Meadowhall.
Doncaster mayor Ros Jones said the joint partnership working had made ‘significant progress’ in reducing anti-social behaviour.
“People were really pleased with the council and the police at how it was going and I’ve been on record in saying how much of a good job they were doing,” Mr Gibbs said.
“People were then coming to tell me they were visiting the town centre again and spending their money their.
“But walking round town it seems to have dropped off and slipped back to what it was before. Anti-social behaviour with people on drink and drugs shouting in the streets, people begging.
“I walk to get lunch most days and I see the begging, the shouting, swearing and people fighting and you often think, what the hell is going on?
“People are scared to bring their kids to town and people are starting to put back on the group they're going back to Meadowhall after trying the centre again.”
Mr Gibbs questioned whether the Public Space Protection Orders – which ban people from a certain area of a community – are working due to the amount of people causing trouble.
“The police are saying the PSPO is working but why have we still got beggars in town?,” he said.
“One guy who was begging was moved on and he said to me the whole thing was stupid because all he had to do was walk around the corner and sit somewhere else.”
South Yorkshire Police disputed the claims and said in the last four weeks, three people were arrested for breaching their Criminal Behaviour Order which evolved from the original PSPO.
Mr Gibbs said the group wanted the best for people in this situation and stressed they weren’t a mob wanting to run beggars out of town.
But he critcised the police and council for failing to turning up to a recent public meeting.
“These people are vulnerable – we don't just want to kick them out of town we just want them dealt with properly and the support they need so they get accomodation and they can get jobs. They don’t seem to be getting the help,” he added.
“I think it has gone backwards – both the council and the police deny that but at a previous business forum they attended we said it and everyone agreed.
“They refused to come to the public meeting we held and we’re now thinking where do we go from here?
“If they say they are doing good work like they have to emails to me then why don’t they turn up and tell people what they’re doing? Because a lot of people think they’re not doing a lot.
“By coming to see us it would directly address some issues because people appreciate them taking the time out to update us.”
Doncaster mayor Ros Jones said despite significant progress being made, ‘a dramatic change in national policy’ was needed.
“Our intensive action plan has had significant impact over the past few months in improving people’s experience of the town centre,” she said.
“Along with South Yorkshire Police, St Leger Homes and our health partners, we have made significant progress in priority areas, notably; reducing anti-social behaviour, begging and rough sleeping and providing support and rehabilitation for people with complex needs.
“Our multi-partner public service approach led by the council, is an example of the joined up approach needed to address such a complex social challenge. However, the issues we are dealing with in Doncaster are mirrored across town and city centres up and down the country and we have to assume that these challenges will be with us for the medium term at least, without dramatic national policy change.
“There will undoubtedly be spikes in rough sleeping and anti-social behaviour, particularly given the warmer weather, and whilst we have plans in place to deal with this, it isn’t easy when resources are lower than we’d like and the council has already funded extra police patrols.
“Members of the public can help our work by reporting any incidents and not giving money to people on the streets by supporting schemes like Real Help Doncaster, which provides direct practical support to help people off the street and into accommodation and support.
“We are continuing to rejuvenate Doncaster town centre with new leisure and culture developments, improvements to public areas and increased town centre events for residents and visitors to enjoy.”
Doncaster Central Neighbourhood Police Team Supt Neil Thomas, said: “We would like to reassure people that we have officers dedicated to policing the town centre on a daily basis, who are enforcing the PSPO and of course dealing with other issues.
“In the last four weeks, the Central Neighbourhood Team have arrested three people for breaching Criminal Behaviour Orders. These CBOs were granted by the courts based on repeated PSPO breaches, which goes some way to demonstrate that we are enforcing the Public Space Protection Order.
“As always, I’d encourage people to come and speak to officers about any concerns they may have about activity in the town centre, if we work together and continue conversations around anti-social behaviour we will continue to see improvements.”