A rise in begging and street drinking in Blackpool town centre has seen the council and police launch a joint crackdown.
Litter louts and yobs will also be targeted by the venture – dubbed ‘Team Blackpool’ – with officers working together to share intelligence and harness their powers aimed at tackling the issue.
The route from Sainsbury’s in Talbot Road, where people can take advantage of free parking, and Blackpool North railway station, where tourists’ journey into the resort ends, into the town centre is now often blighted by beggars sitting in doorways and asking passers-by for money.
Other areas, such as Bank Hey Street and Queen Street, are also fast becoming hot-spots for anti-social behaviour, with some traders in Blackpool saying some customers are now too scared to walk through the resort.
The number of nuisance anti-social behaviour incidents reported last year increased to 7,745 – or an average of 21 every day – a report found. That’s up 128, or 1.7 per cent, from the year before.
Council workers across several departments, including security, street cleaning, and civil enforcement, will join the new taskforce, and ‘will take part in joint activities and campaigns’.
But housing staff will also step in where problems are linked to homelessness or neighbourhood disputes, in a bid to help the town’s most vulnerable people.
Coun Gillian Campbell, the council’s deputy leader, said demands on both the authority and police ‘continue to be extremely challenging’, with the two already working together ‘very closely ... at many levels’.
She said: “We have looked at many areas that provide opportunities for a more co-ordinated approach to deliver more robust and effective protection services at ground level to both residents and visitors.
“By adopting a ‘Team Blackpool’ approach, which might also involve other private, public and voluntary partners we can create a more flexible service delivery to build safer communities.”
Chief Inspector Lee Wilson, of Blackpool Police, added: “This will allow us to pool our resources and tackle problems in an even more co-ordinated and joined up way than we do currently.
“The Team Blackpool approach will focus on the issues across the borough as they arise, and we will be able to look across the full range of departments available and ensure the right elements are matched to the problem.”
‘Anything that helps has got to be a bonus’
Claire Smith, chairman of Stay Blackpool, said: “Anything that helps the situation has got to be a bonus.
“It is something that our guests mention quite regularly. We get a lot of guests who come for the dancing and these are people who come to Blackpool year in year out, and we need to look after these people so they continue to come to Blackpool.
“When they are walking back to their cars from the Winter Gardens at night beggars can be quite intimidating, and that’s not what we want.
“Going forward, this is not the impression that we need to give of these quality events.
“I think they are right in targeting the town centre because that’s where the bulk of the problem is, because of footfall.
“It is difficult because some of these people do need help. It’s a difficult balance and lets hope that between the council and the police they do have a good effect.”
Hotelier Charlie Doherty, chairman of the Central Blackpool Business Forum, said: “On the whole, it’s just the aggressive beggars who are the problem. There are some aggressive beggars and it’s a great concern when you don’t give them what they want.
“The shop owners, when they are sitting outside their shops, should move them on, but maybe they have experienced aggression from them in the past.
“When hotel guests are sitting outside they are approached for money and cigarettes.
“It’s such a trivial offence and we don’t like to bring it up but it does cause problems.”
Traders’ concerns over safety
Traders in Blackpool recently voiced their concern over the safety of the town centre – and the future of their shops.
One said their business has to keep its Church Street doors locked during business hours to stop smash-and-grab thieves, while another said their customers are often too frightened to shop in the resort.
It came just months after bosses at Ethan Hull Salon in Topping Street said they were quitting the town centre after a raid by burglars, saying Blackpool is now too scary’ for female customers.
The burglars, who fled with armfuls of GHD hair straighteners, were never caught.
Sirge Smart from Mankind, a designer menswear shop that has been open for nearly 30 years, said his main concern is the wrong type of person in the town centre’.
“A lot of my customers are frightened to go into town,” he said. “Until we sort out the drink and drugs problem, nobody will come.
“People used to come from Manchester and Leeds to shop in Blackpool. When I was a boy, I used to walk down Central Drive at 3am. Now I wouldn’t walk down there at three in the afternoon.
“A lot of our customers pull up outside, buy what they want, and go home.”
Paul Lewis from Flute Hairdressing, next door but one, said: “All morning you see the drug addicts walking down to the soup kitchens. We tend to keep the doors locked and only open them when a regular turns up.”
Insp David Wilson, from Blackpool Police, said his team of more than 15 constables and PCSOs’, based at Bonny Street, work to keep the shopping hub a safe and attractive place to visit’, on top of the response officers who also attend incidents.
He said: “We hold twice weekly multi-agency operations around the town centre, aimed at combating anti-social behaviour and signposting the vulnerable to services, on top of patrols that take place daily.
“We will shortly be opening a new operating base within the town hall [with the police station set to move from Bonny Street to Marton], with a public enquiry desk on Clifton Street.
“We are committed to finding new approaches to combat drug dealing and anti-social behaviour, and we have embedded a team of new officers within the team to tackle long-term issues such as street sex work, begging and vulnerability.
“We rely on community intelligence to tackle drug dealing, and as demonstrated on our recent week of action around Claremont, we will act when that intelligence is available.”
If you’re under 26 and homeless, Streetlife runs a night shelter from 7pm every night, next to St John’s Church opposite the Winter Gardens, where food and rooms are available.
People can shower and wash their clothes. The shelter shuts at 9am.
Staff are available at The Base, in Buchanan Street, from 9am, and can offer support around housing, health, benefits, education, training, and employment.
The Base also has food from 1pm until 3.30pm.
Adults can contact The Ashley Foundation, which accepts self-referrals, and has hostels for people over the age of 18 with or without local connections.
Referrals can be made from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, at the charity’s base in Abingdon Street, though it does not have emergency overnight shelters.
The council can also help for those who are homeless, experiencing domestic violence or abuse, serious harassment, or anti-social behaviour.
If you need to leave home immediately, go to the South King Street office during office hours, or call 01253 477600 out of hours.
The authority has two emergency shelters: Elm House in Derby Road for people 24 and under, and Vincent House in Furness Avenue for those who are older.
lIf you have identified a rough sleeper, you can call 01253 477908, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
‘People are being put off’
Coun Maxine Callow warned earlier this month that aggressive beggars were deterring people off going to Blackpool town centre, but Coun Gillian Campbell replied powers were being used to move beggars on and last year 77 problematic individuals’ were removed from the town.
Coun Callow said: “There is one woman who is very aggressive, going up to people and she has been here about a year. Once people encounter all these beggars they are not going to come back. People at the north end of Blackpool prefer to go to Cleveleys than come into Blackpool, and people in the south end can go into St Annes.”
Blackpool Council’s tourism, economy, and resources ommittee chairman, Coun Peter Hunter, said the resort’s problem was not as bad as many other towns and cities.He said: “I go into Preston two days a week and on one occasion counted 11 or 13 beggars in one area. To me, that city centre is significantly worse than Blackpool.”