NEW powers are being used to tackle anti-social behaviour in the town centre. Local Democracy Reporter JOSEPH TIMAN speaks to shopkeepers about how the council crackdown is going.

BUSINESSOWNERS have been threatened with knives, held hostage in their own shops and are victims of daily abuse at the hands of “aggressive beggars” who they blame for a decline in the town centre.

They claim that people are avoiding Bolton for fear of their safety and shop elsewhere instead.

This comes four months after new powers were rolled out to tackle anti-social behaviour.

While the public space protection order (PSPOs) which allows authorities to issue fines of up to £100 for begging and on-street drinking has been welcomed, some say they have seen little change.

Shopkeepers are calling for more of a physical presence to tackle the problem and take a tougher stance on the town’s troublemakers.

Erfan Mohamed, who runs News Box on the corner of Victoria Square, said that businesses are “fed up”.

He spoke to The Bolton News hours after he found what he believed to be human excrement outside his shop.

The newsagent claims that many people, especially the elderly, are scared of coming into Bolton and go to Bury instead.

Mr Mohammed has seen beggars being “moved on” by the town’s two enforcement officers – but said as soon as their backs are turned, the beggars return.

He said: “They’re worse than animals, these people outside – the beggars. This town, they’ve given it to the dogs. We’re paying rent and rates here. We’re trying to make a living. Times are hard enough. People are struggling. We’re struggling – business people – this is the last thing we want.”

Nigel Lyons, who runs Coffee Grind with his wife Jill, has to often shut his Bolton Market stall so that he can forcibly remove people from his shop on Newport Street.

The Bolton News:

The town’s beggars have been accused of “taking over” tables outside and hassling customers for money and cigarettes. Mrs Lyons has felt threatened on many occasions and was once trapped in her own shop as two men blocked the door when she asked them to leave.

She said: “This is a regular occurrence in the morning where I get people coming in, wanting to use my toilet, wanting a drink or a plastic cup, and when I refuse they’re very, very abusive.

“The enforcement team aren’t moving them on. That’s what they need to do because customers say to me on a day-to-day basis, they won’t come into Bolton because all they get is abuse for money from people on Newport Street.

“At the end of the day, we shouldn’t be made to feel threatened. Shopkeepers shouldn’t have to take abuse and we should feel safe from the premises we work from. And we don’t any more.”

Mr Lyons was once threatened with a knife when he asked someone outside his shop to move.

The businessowner believes that the new enforcement officers have had no impact at all.

He said: “They’re still out in force, drinking, taking drugs, dealing, kids on bikes hassling people – it’s a daily occurrence we have to deal with. And down near Greggs Bakery and the newsagent, they’re openly taking drugs, drug-dealing and the officers aren’t on site. They don’t do anything about it. If they get a fine and take it to court, they just end up coming back on the street, shoplifting until the fine’s been paid, and once its paid, they’re back on the streets again. So it’s just a pointless circle that’s not working.”

READ MORE: First people convicted under new 'aggressive begging' bylaws

Odessa owner Alex McVey welcomed the action being taken, but admits that he has noticed very little difference so far.

The cafe in Exchange Street had its window smashed one night last week by “mindless vandals” believed to be youths.

He said: “We seem to be against the tide – it’s a bit of a battle. It’s a difficult position, but there’s a lot that needs to be done.

“If I could wish for something to make me sleep easier, 24-hour security around the town centre. It’s horrible to think that we need that but I think that we do.

“Anything that’s being done is a good thing. But I think there’s a long way to go but it’s a step in the right direction.”

The Bolton News:

Staff at HSBC have experienced anti-social behaviour outside the town centre bank which led the company to install CCTV.

Branch manager Michael White said that something needed to be done to make the town centre a more pleasant place to bank, shop and socialise.

He said: “Since the introduction of the PSPO and Town Centre Enforcement Officers we have seen a positive impact in respect of some of the issues we were facing and we continue to welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with the local police, council, businesses and charities.”

The police sergeant responsible for the town centre, Peter Crow, said that authorities must take into account the needs of everyone concerned. But he recognised shopkeepers' frustrations.

He said: "I welcome the thoughts and feelings of the community, they are the people who live and work in the area and I respect their views.

"There is a strong partnership link between all agencies and the wider businesses may not be informed explicitly of what support is being offered, which may fuel a perception of inaction – I can assure that this is not the case.

"Where the relevant support is not accepted there is a sanction which sometimes requires a court appearance. This is progressed in the first instance through the PSPO team.

"There is no evidence to suggest that people issued with fines commit crime to pay those fines.

"Although financial sanctions are not always the best way to break the cycle of offending this is normally a matter for the courts in collaboration with the probation service."

The council said it has received lots of positive feedback from shoppers and businesses about the “visible difference” in the town centre.

The Bolton News:

A spokesman said: “We want the town centre to thrive and we understand the frustrations of businesses who want more to be done. Whilst the PSPO gives us more powers to tackle issues like aggressive begging, ultimately the council can only issue fines to people who break the PSPO rules.

“We understand some shops have concerns about shoplifting but this is a crime – it should be reported to the police and dealt with by trained police officers.

Magistrates fined the first three people this week under the new bylaws but magistrates did not ban the individuals from the town centre as the council had asked.

A spokesman added: “When an officer issues a fine, people need to understand that the legal process is not quick or instant and this is frustrating. Our first three cases were in court on Monday and magistrates were very supportive.

“We did ask for a banning order but this was not granted. However, should these individuals end up in court again, we will ask again for orders to ban them from the town centre.”