A major purge to deal with a scourge of drugs and antisocial behaviour has ‘reclaimed’ Doncaster town centre, say the businesses that campaigned on the issue.
Back in August, businessman Dominic Gibbs campaigned for a public meeting because of the strength of his concerns over the issue. But now he believes three months of action has ‘reclaimed the streets’
Mr Gibbs, owner of the Diamond Live Lounge on Wood Street had previously said the problem was so bad that people were turning their backs on Doncaster, and set up a facebook group which attracted thousands of concerned residents.
It sparked a series of measures including an increase in the number of police in the town centre, a string of arrests over spice dealing, and a new giving scheme so that people could donate money to help rough sleepers without giving the money directly to the people on the street.
Last week it was confirmed extra funding for police patrols which was provided by Doncaster Council, would continue for another three months. And police expect to have extra officers available next year as a result of their own recruitment plans.
Mr Gibbs was one of a number who told a meeting of the Doncaster Town Centre Business Forum that the action had worked.
He said: “We have taken the streets back – so thank you.”
“I walk into town every day. We were seeing people who thought they ran the streets. They didn’t care and had no respect for authority or people. Since the action has been taken, that's no longer the case. Some of these people may be still there, but you no longer see people kicking off and shouting, or causing a nuisance or looking like zombies due to taking spice.
“I think this is down to 10,000 people coming together and making their views known.”
Jackie Bailey, chairman of Doncaster Town Centre Business Forum, who runs pubs in the town centre, added: “This is a very complex initiative and we are pleased that a long-term approach appears to have been adopted with, from figures released, early positive results.
She added: “There is no perfect solution, but we have certainly seen a difference.”
Doncaster’s police commander Chief Supt Shaun Morley, said: “We have seen reports of antisocial behaviour reduce by 53 per cent over the last three months, compared to the previous three months. We are doing 18 extra hours of patrols every day, which is a considerable investment in the issue by the force.
“The added investment has been very effective, and we’re getting a very positive reaction. I visit Doncaster town centre every day, and I think the difference is extremely visible. We are not seeing the aggressive begging or the visible use of spice that was evident over the summer months.
“In the summer, our partners identified 67 individuals who were involved in begging, spice misuse and anti-social behaviour in the town centre but through joint work with our partners, this has now reduced to 27. There has been a lot of work from the council’s Complex Lives team to address their complex vulnerabilities, as well as work by St Leger Homes to rehouse those individuals. Our part has mainly been dealing with drugs dealing and organised criminal behaviour in the town centre.
“We have made 40 arrests in the town centre in and around drugs dealing. The best feedback I have had was from one of the individuals who was misusing spice. He said ‘I can’t get spice in Doncaster any longer, because you’ve locked up all my dealers.
“One town centre business said they thought people were coming back. One business told us her takings in the last four weeks were the best she had had in the last 12 months.
“I think there is a sense of confidence starting to return to people using the town centre."
The Police have also met with magistrates to explain the overall context of the issues in the town centre, and explain how antisocial behaviour was having a significant impact on the quality of life in the town centre, asking them to balance making the right decision for wider society as well as the individual.
He said the winter months would always be a factor in reducing incidents on the town centre streets – but pointed out that significant change had already started to be seen before the weather changed.
In the longer term, South Yorkshire Police are seeking to recruit around 40 addition officers over 12 months. This is expected to see an increase in officers available to police the town centre. That will include trainee officers operating from the Police Tutor Unit at Doncaster Police Station on College Road.
This is expected to make the current police numbers in the town centre sustainable in the long term.
Donaster Central MP Rosie Winterton has also been meeting with officials at the council to discuss the problems, and has taken the issues to Westminster.
She is looking at issues such as what effect reclassifying ‘spice’ as a different category of drug could have on punishments meted out to dealers, and the powers it would give authorities to refer people for treatment.
“I’m working through the all party group on psychoactive substances to urge the Government to look at whether ‘spice’ should be reclassified and other measures taken to tackle the anti-social behaviour which follows on from ‘spice’.”
She said she was getting reports that the situation in the town centre was improving, but felt that it was important not to be complacent.