BUSINESS owners in Central St Leonards are concerned that street drinkers are hampering regeneration of the area.
They say the problem is at its worst at the lower end of London Road, and at the junction with Norman Road.
Philip Oakley, who runs his lighting design and manufacturing business from former pub The Admiral Benbow, in London Road with partner Olivia Yip, said that street drinkers and the associated anti-social behaviour were behind his decision to close the doors of his shop to the public for good at the end of last year.
He said: “It is such a shame as I have always wanted to have a little shop, but we very quickly started hating opening.
“You look around and see street drinkers. It’s the volume - you are just waiting for the next one to come in, and we had things stolen.”
“A lot of people no longer see the problem, but just accept it.
“I find it embarrassing, you have to explain it away whenever visitors come to St Leonards.”
Most of Philip’s business is done in London, so the financial impact on him is negligible, but he said: “I make a real effort to put money into the town. It is important that all the businesses here do well.”
Jan Mctaggart, who runs clothing boutique Who’s Wearing What, in London Road, said: “The issue is the perception of St Leonards as unsavoury.”
A member of the St Leonards Business Association and the Town Team, she added: “We realise that every community has a mix of people, but at the moment, the street drinkers are defining our town.
“We, and every other trader could be doing a lot better if the issue of policing the streets was done more systematically.”
Chris Leech, landlord of The St Leonard pub a few doors down, said: “It is not a good look at all. It’s the impression it gives.
“The street drinkers congregate outside the betting shop, the post office and the telephone box.
“Most definitely I think St Leonards could be much busier.”
According to Craig McClelland, who runs family business St Leonards Grocery, said that the phone box near his shop was a particular hotspot, with drinkers congregating from as early as 7am.
“We don’t really have any trouble, but they are just there all day, and it is not a good look when we are trying to attract people to the town.
“I think it would stop people from coming, especially families.
“Maybe things could be done so that these people have somewhere else to go.”
Leader of Hastings Borough Council and councillor for Central St Leonards Jeremy Birch said: “It is a challenge that we have got to face.
“We have discussed with the police that we are getting concerns from traders, and they have increased the policing presence in St Leonards.”
Cllr Birch said that he had responded to concerns around anti-social behaviour at the phone box near St Leonards Grocery, by writing together with police, to BT to ask for its removal.
He said that the council was currently investing a significant amount in St Leonards, with improvements to the appearance of the streets, signage and car parking as well as working with the Town Team.
Inspector Gareth Evans, of Hastings Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “We are aware of the problem of street drinking and urge people to report it so that we can get a clearer picture about what is going on.
“We are trying to put the right officers in the right place at the right time.”
He added that police were also looking towards longer term solutions, such as getting people access to treatment services.