About a hundred traders and residents from the St James’s Street area of Brighton shared their concerns with Brighton and Hove’s police chief and council officials this morning (Thursday 27 June).
They spoke about crime, open drug dealing and drug taking and the level of rough sleeping as well as public urination and defecation.
They complained about the level of racist and homophobic behaviour in an area that was also described as warm, friendly, diverse and vibrant.
Traders said that customers were put off by aggressive begging, including at cash machines and when they sat outside cafés to eat and drink.
And anti-social behaviour left some fearful, with violence at night prompting safety concerns.
There were not enough police, given the number of people using the area – during the day and at night – and given the level of crime.
One trader said: “We need visible policing pretty much 24 hours a day here.”
Another spoke about how the nature of the street changes late at night – or after midnight – but the level of policing didn’t seem to reflect that.
And another said that many more affordable homes would be needed to tackle homelessness – and more public toilets might relieve the public urination and defecation problems.
The same matter came up at a meeting two days ago when a nearby resident petitioned Brighton and Hove City Council to “clean up Kemp Town” and complained about finding human faeces.
Pride was praised for the way it funded the best clean up every year in the “beating queer heart of Brighton”.
Some people complained about cyclists riding the wrong way down the hill and the fumes from cars that were stuck behind buses.
Chief Inspector Rachel Swinney, the district commander for Brighton and Hove, told the meeting this morning: “Today is about trying something different. It’s about the opportunity to come together to have candid conversations.”
She said that she wanted to share ideas and acknowledged that some of what was said might not always be comfortable.
Council neighbourhood co-ordinator Sam Warren said: “We’re trying to develop a vision of what residents and traders want to happen across the area.”
Later, Chief Inspector Swinney thanked people for their honesty and summed up the feedback under three headings – or commons themes – “transport and the environment”, “cleaner and greener” and “safety in St James’s Street”.
Brighton Kemptown MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle said: “I’m pleased that our Labour council and the police have made the effort to start to think more broadly about how to improve St James’s Street.
“I was pleased to join the first part of the meeting where action on drugs, begging and street drinking were raised as well as positive suggestions of part pedestrianisation, a welcome arch to St James’s Street, a business improvement district and improved security.
“I hope something comes of this and action is taken.
“I will follow up with our councillors to ensure that Kemp Town and the St James’s Street area is not left out in city development.”
Before the meeting Sussex Police and the council said on the St James’s Community Action Group: “The police and the council are holding a public event to talk to people about the St James’s Street area.
“We want to find better ways to work with residents and businesses to improve the area so that it feels a safe and welcoming place for all, to involve those who live and work here more closely in decisions about how services operate and to look at ways we can collaborate more closely with the community to enable you to develop local ideas and ambition for your neighbourhood.”
As the meeting drew to a close, Chief Inspector Swinney said that this was just a start.
She and her colleagues would go away and think about what they needed to do, including what they needed to do differently.
Sam Warren said that there were some big issues that could not easily or quickly be solved but the conversation would continue.
Many constructive ideas had come up, she said, and there would be some targeted work – and all the things that had been said would help the council and police begin to come up with an action plan.
Community activist Adrian Hart was applauded when he said: “The area is at breaking point.”
The mood of those who called the meeting seemed to be that this was the start of attempts to try to fix it.
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