Businesses refused to reopen after lockdown due to staff safety fears in Weston town centre

Weston High Street, just before lockdown.

Weston High Street, just before lockdown. - Credit: Archant

A number of businesses refused to reopen this week over fears for staff safety following antisocial behaviour in Weston town centre. 

North Somerset Council said problems have escalated in the past two weeks after a group of people began rough sleeping in the Italian Gardens.

Weston Italian Gardens.

Weston Italian Gardens. - Credit: Archant

The rough-sleepers' behaviour, which included assault, street drinking, littering, urinating in the public space and drug activity, was so concerning that a number of businesses refused to reopen after lockdown ended,  in order to keep their staff safe.

In response, the council has stepped up by putting in tough measures to tackle antisocial behaviour in the town centre and across North Somerset.

The measures include an increase in street warden presence in Weston town centre, seven days a week.

Wardens will provide a high-vis presence supporting businesses and working with partner agencies to prevent crime and disorder.

They will also perform the role of a Covid safety officer, encouraging people to follow Covid measures and advising on one-way systems and social distancing in shop and public transport queues. 

North Somerset Councillor Mark Canniford.

North Somerset Councillor Mark Canniford. - Credit: Archant

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North Somerset Council's executive member with responsibility for business, Mark Canniford, said the next few weeks were a crucial time for town centre businesses and action had to be taken.

Cllr Canniford said: "We have a duty to those living on the margins, but I must stress that all the people who were sleeping in tents in the town centre have been offered temporary accommodation.

"Sleeping outside has been their choice and not a necessity.”

"In the run-up to Christmas, we have to support all our businesses who have had a challenging trading year.

"I have spoken to several in the past week who tell me they won’t re-open unless we are able to resolve the anti-social behaviour issues in the area of the Italian Gardens."

From Wednesday, joint early-morning patrols will be carried out in Weston town centre by North Somerset Council community response officers, police officers and street wardens.

These patrols aim to ensure the town centre is ready for businesses to open and resolve any antisocial behaviour, littering, or other issues at the start of the day.

The council will also be redirecting existing staff to perform a similar function in the other towns across North Somerset.

In addition, council officers will be working in partnership with Avon and Somerset Constabulary to enforce the public space protection orders and target the most problematic offenders of antisocial behaviour with community protection warnings or notices.

These orders will prevent those individuals from being able to come into Weston town centre.

The council's executive member with responsibility for housing, Mike Bell, said: "Anyone rough sleeping is made an offer of accommodation, a full housing assessment, a personalised housing plan and will have a named officer within the homeless prevention team as well as a dedicated outreach worker at the YMCA.

"Those who may rough sleep but have alternative accommodation available to them are supported to return.

Cllr Mike Bell.

Cllr Mike Bell. - Credit: Archant

"Some people sleeping rough do not wish to engage with housing services or take up offers of accommodation, however, our outreach service continues to work with them in the hope that they will take up offers of support and accommodation.

"However, whatever the circumstances, antisocial behaviour will not be tolerated.

"We work with other hotel and accommodation owners and hostel managers who are keen to help, especially throughout the winter months.

"We also have a registered provider housing association whose team are experienced in working with those who have multiple or complex support needs and have suitable accommodation."

North Somerset Council also works closely with partner agencies such as We Are With You, Community Matrons, Start to Finish as well as commissioning the YMCA for outreach services. 

Anyone concerned about a rough sleeper should log-on to www.streetlink.org.uk, which allows the authority's outreach team to locate people to encourage them to engage with services and support.

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