Barnsley town centre is a hive of activity at the moment. With the first stage of the Council’s regeneration scheme opening in Spring 2018, construction works are now progressing rapidly and there is a definite buzz as you walk through the town.
Last week, I met with the indefatigable Anne Untisz from the Town Centre team to look at the redevelopment. It was great to see the May Day Green markets and the new library beginning to take shape. The mix of new shops and leisure outlets, the expanded market and our independent retail quarter will create a vibrant, exciting town centre for Barnsley.
I do however continue to have significant concerns that the level of anti-social behaviour in the town centre threatens to undermine the success of the regeneration. It is clear that there has been a sharp spike in instances of anti-social behaviour in the last few months.
Every day I receive messages from constituents who have had unpleasant and often frightening experiences when visiting the town centre. If the regeneration is going to reach its full potential, we need to stop this behaviour and we need to stop it now.
It is not acceptable for people to be intimidated as they return to their cars by drivers using the car park for drag-racing, or for children to see adults high on drugs, slumped in doorways, in the middle of the day. This is not the reputation that Barnsley needs or deserves.
We must not allow this situation to continue.
A strong response is needed to stop this from happening, both in terms of tackling the behaviour as it happens, but also in terms of addressing the underlying reasons why it is happening.
Both Barnsley Council and South Yorkshire Police have been working hard to crack down on anti-social behaviour. Despite the police losing almost 500 police officers since 2010, and the council facing of a 42% real terms cut in their funding from central government in the last four years, both recognised the need to target resources and jointly funded the creation of a dedicated Town Centre Neighbourhood team earlier this year.
This team has had a positive impact, especially around the Interchange, but sadly the town centre continues to be blighted by anti-social behaviour.
It is clear that much of this behaviour is fuelled by drug and substance abuse which is not surprising given the recent cuts to substance misuse services.
Last year, Barnsley Council was forced to cut this year’s budget for the Substance Misuse Harm Reduction, Treatment and Recovery Service by £1.9 million. The council have been working hard to remodel their substance misuse services, to make the most of the resources available, launching a new service in April, but I am concerned by the numbers of drug-related incidents currently being reported to me.
Following this recent spike in reports, I have requested a further meeting with both the police and the council to try and identify new ways to address these problems.
In the meantime, we should all take responsibility for our town centre and send a crystal clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated. The police and the council need as much information as possible to help them to do their jobs properly. If you witness anti-social behaviour, please do report it. If it not an emergency, notify the police by calling 101 or report the incident to council on 01226 773555 (always call 999 in an emergency situation.)
Together, we can tackle this problem. We must not allow the actions of the few to undermine the determination of the vast majority to see Barnsley town centre renewed and refreshed. We will create a vibrant hub, encouraging shoppers back, enticing new visitors and showcase the very best our town has to offer.
This article was first published in The Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 6 October 2017