Trading Hell: ‘Report crime so we can cut crime’, says BID manager
Last updated Mar 21, 2024
Photo of a woman talking to two police officers in central Harrogate. A caption across the bottom says 'Trading Hell: A possible solution'.

This is the fifth in our Trading Hell series of features investigating anti-social behaviour and crime in Harrogate town centre.

All this week, our Trading Hell series of features has been putting the problems faced by central Harrogate businesses under the microscope.

We’ve found out what town-centre traders feel about anti-social behaviour, shoplifting and threats to staff through our unprecedented survey.

We’ve taken a deep dive into the official data to find out what the stats have to say about crime levels in the heart of our town.

We’ve heard from Harrogate Homeless Project about the limits constraining the charity sector’s response to rough sleeping and street drinking.

And we’ve heard from a senior police officer about what North Yorkshire Police are doing to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour and to restore public confidence. 

But could there be a better way? Matthew Chapman certainly thinks so. He’s manager of Harrogate BID (business improvement district), and for the last couple of years he’s been leading the charge for the introduction of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO). He told the Stray Ferret: 

“At the moment, the police are on the street and know there’s a problem, but they don’t have the powers to be able to do anything about it. A PSPO would give them the tools to be able to do that.” 

Introduced in 2014, PSPOs prohibit specified behaviours and offences from precisely delineated areas. Harrogate introduced one in August 2016 and extended it a year later for another three years. It was tailored to clamp down on street drinking inside the railway and bus stations, Victoria Shopping Centre, and the Victoria and Jubilee multi-storey car-parks. Enforcement officers had the power to ask people to stop drinking in a public place and ‘surrender’ their alcohol. Refusal to hand it over could result in a fixed penalty notice of up to £100. 

But that order expired in 2020 and the pandemic lockdown meant there was no need to renew it, so there hasn’t been one in place for the past four years. 

A new one is long overdue, according to Matthew Chapman, and an overwhelming majority of central Harrogate businesses appear to agree. Our Trading Hell survey found that 92% of town-centre traders support the introduction of a PSPO.

Graphic showing that 92% of town-centre traders would like to see a public spaces protection order (PSPO) introduced in Harrogate.

Lifestyle choice?

Who is to blame for all the problems that traders face – including anti-social behaviour, street drinking, persistent begging and shoplifting – is a simple question with a complex answer. According to Matthew Chapman, there are several different kinds of offender, but most of the problems are caused by two groups: “homegrown” street drinkers and gangs from out of town.

Homelessness. Photo: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr

Photo: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr.

He said: 

“We know of people who have got addiction problems, people who have had some kind of trauma in their life – whether it’s in childhood or more recently – and they’ve ended up in a really difficult situation as a result. 

“These people deserve the right to support, and health, and care, and there’s a lot of help out there for them. We’ve got Harrogate Homeless Project that can provide counselling, GPs, vets, food and showers; we’ve got North Yorkshire Horizons, which offers support with addiction; we’ve got the rough sleeper coordinators at the council; we have the No Second Night Out provision that allows people access to a hotel room for the night when the temperature’s 2°C or below.   

“If all those avenues have been explored, and this person continues to shoplift, continues to perform anti-social behaviour, continues to be a nuisance to society, then we believe the gap is in policing. At this moment in time, those people aren’t breaking the law – and that’s why we’ve been calling for a PSPO to be introduced.” 

Does this mean he agrees with former Home Secretary Suella Braverman that rough sleeping is a “lifestyle choice”? He said: 

“Some people have chosen that way of life for so long that adapting back into what we would call a ‘normal’ way of living is difficult. We know, for example, that we have a rough sleeper in Harrogate who doesn’t want a council property and prefers living on the streets – prefers that community around him that he trusts. 

“Whether it’s a ‘lifestyle choice’… you can pick that wording apart, but we certainly know some people who do choose to live that way rather than taking a local authority housing option.” 

People-trafficking gangs

The other main group of people causing problems for town-centre businesses is driven by money rather than personal problems. Some come to beg, others to shoplift, and they are far more flexible in their approach, according to Mr Chapman. 

He said: 

We know of national people-trafficking gangs that come in and target places like Harrogate. One of the challenges is that when the police get on top of some of these really high-level groups in a certain area, they swiftly move to a different area, but the information-sharing isn’t there from police constabulary to police constabulary. 

“It’s similar to County Lines [the city-based networks that traffic drugs to outlying areas] – once one group is getting tackled a bit more, they’ll literally just move from North Yorkshire to West Yorkshire, or from Greater London to Birmingham, or from Manchester to Glasgow, and it is quite high-level organised crime groups that do these things.” 

The bands of professional beggars follow the crowds, he said, often moving seasonally or from event to event, and can make a lot of money:

“There’s a known group of individuals in Harrogate that the police, the council and charities are working with, but that can change daily, weekly, depending on what’s happening in town. 

“If the Great Yorkshire Show is on, that can be quite ‘productive’ for certain groups of people, and when the races are on in York, sometimes we’ll see a dip in begging in Harrogate, because York will be the place to go for those people.  

“Christmas is really well delivered in Harrogate, and we sometimes get an increase, because there’s footfall, there’s spend, there are people feeling a little bit more generous. So it’s quite targeted, where these people operate.” 

Photo of a man begging outside Boots in Harrogate town centre.

As reported in yesterday’s Trading Hell instalment, we put these assertions to Chief Inspector Simon Williamson of North Yorkshire Police, who told us: 

“I don’t think we have a specific, identified problem of people targeting the Harrogate area – there’s no evidence to support that – but there are anecdotes to suggest that people have come on occasion.” 

Told of Ch Insp Williamson’s response, Mr Chapman said: 

“We don’t have access to the level of data that the Chief Inspector would, and it would be really interesting to see where that information has come from. 

“But our knowledge has come from being on the ground, day to day, speaking to business owners, speaking to security guards, speaking to the charities. They know what’s going on.” 

‘Reporting crime is vital’

Whatever the problems are in Harrogate town centre, and no matter who is causing them, many are hoping that Project Spotlight, the initiative launched last week to step up police patrols in the town centre, will help tackle them. 

Mr Chapman also has high hopes for the new town centre support officer that Harrogate BID is currently recruiting. Their job will be to support the police, council and charities, acting as a “middleman” to gather evidence and share information. 

They will also be useful in making sure that all crime is reported – a vital measure if a PSPO is to be introduced. In order for North Yorkshire Council to be able to apply for a PSPO, national guidelines dictate that crime figures must demonstrate its necessity. But that’s a level that central Harrogate does not yet reach – officially, at least. 

Mr Chapman said: 

“The number of actual reports of crime [in central Harrogate] is really low, but the picture on the ground is very different. But if people don’t report the crimes, the crime figures will never be high enough for us to be able to get that PSPO.

“It’s ironic really. I want crime to go down – as everyone does – but I want the figures to go up, just so we’ve got a case when speaking to the police.

“We really cannot stress enough that people need to report crimes, no matter how low their value, because the only way that we’re going to make change is by getting those crime figures up to make the Chief Inspectors listen.”

Case study: How a PSPO helped cut crime and anti-social behaviour in Lincoln

Lincoln has sought to use PSPOs to tackle problems similar to those experienced in Harrogate town centre. 

City of Lincoln Council has used the powers over the last nine years to prohibit various kinds of anti-social behaviour, which council leaders, police and other agencies feel have plagued the city. 

They range from banning street drinking in the city centre, to prohibiting substance abuse and “loitering” in local car parks. 

Photo of part of Lincoln city centre, where the council has introduced a public spaces protection order (PSPO).

Lincoln city centre. Photo: Lincolnian (Brian)/Flickr.

The city’s first ever PSPO was introduced in 2015. It banned the possession and consumption of “legal highs” and alcohol within a defined area of the city centre, and allowed police and council staff to either force people to hand over those substances and move on, or issue a fine if they refused to do so. The order has been renewed every three years and is due for review this year. 

A separate PSPO covering three city-centre multi-storey car-parks was first enforced in October 2020. It banned drinking, drug-taking and “congregating in groups of two or more people”, as well as public urination, smoking and any activity likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to any other person. 

Figures provided by the council at a meeting to discuss its extension last September show that the PSPO had its desired effect. Incidents of drug-taking dropped from 107 in the three years prior to the order to 35 over the three years the order was in force. 

Over the same periods, public order offences dropped only slightly, from 189 to 150. Nevertheless, council officials felt this modest drop justified extending the PSPO for another three years. 

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