A battle is on to reclaim once-thriving pockets of Leeds which have turned into virtual “no-go zones” for locals because of a plague of on-street drinking.
In one suburb, old ladies have reported being too terrified to venture out for a loaf of bread.
Families have told the YEP they feel too intimidated by street drinkers and drunken loiterers to shop locally, and are travelling out of the area for the most basic of goods.
Elsewhere, traders blame the lager louts for massive slumps in their takings.
But communities are fighting back, and a raft of measures designed to reclaim our district shopping centres are being increasingly enforced.
The city already has FIVE areas covered by a Cumulative Impact Policy (C.I.P), which can cap the number of premises selling alcohol.
Leeds also has 18 areas with DPPOs (Designated Public Place Orders) in force, which allow police to ban drinking in public places and move troublemakers on.
Headingley, Woodhouse, the city centre and Horsforth are the city’s street boozing hotspots, as they are the areas with BOTH bits of legislation in force.
Armley Town Street, long plagued by street drinkers, could soon join them and campaigners in east Leeds are also set to launch their own bid.
All agree a renewed collective effort is needed to restore community spirit and give local traders a vital boost.
Armley Labour councillor Alison Lowe, who has long campaigned on the issue, said: “Armley has had serious problems with street drinkers and anti-social behaviour for a long time.
“A lot of people reported that they are not going to the shops and using other amenities as a direct result of street drinkers.
“Businesses have been directly affected by street drinkers.
“Leeds City Council have started to tackle the street drinking problem by getting six injunctions against the worst offenders.
“This has already seen a substantial improvement in the problem.
“However the other side of the problem is the number of off licenses in Armley Town Street and the fact that many more businesses can apply to become off licenses.
“Members of the public see the problems every day when going about their day-to-day business on Town Street.
“They can see groups of drinkers and that is making them frightened.
“We are now gathering more evidence to prevent more off licenses from opening. We are making progress on this issue.
“Town Street is a fantastic place to shop and it has got a wide range of amenities.
“If we want to protect them and keep them safe, then we need to support our local shopkeepers and businesses.”
Campaigner Gudrun Shemilt, chair of the All Together Armley group, said Armley had “endured a hardcore of street drinkers...for a long time at all times of day on Town Street”.
“Gradually this has eroded the community’s comfort and use of the shopping centre,” she said.
“We believe that the main priority is to tackle the anti social behaviour and the fact many people feel unsafe on Town Street.
“The All Together Armley committee is also looking at plans to hold community events on Town Street aimed at cohesion to produce a more positive presence and feeling.”
A panel of licensing chiefs at Leeds City Council was told at a recent meeting that there were “increasing concerns about large groups of mostly male street drinkers gathering on Town Street. Residents find this intimidating and have reported feeling that this area is becoming a no-go zone”.
Donna Hall, a mum from Armley, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “There are drunks congregating on the benches in Armley Moor drinking alcohol. It is disgusting for children to see.”
Margaret Lattey, 63, added: “I have lived in Armley for 20 years.
“It does need to improve. There are often lots of people hanging around the street and they are often quite drunk.
“I really do feel there needs to be more done to stop anti-social behaviour and street drinking.”
Andrew Jacobs, 41, a sales representative, said he used to use Armley Town Street regularly “but the drunks and thieves are ruining it for everyone”.
The YEP also spoke to traders in Harehills Lane, where similar problems with street drinking are partly blamed for a massive slump in trade.
Among those affected is Mark Atkinson, who has run his Direct Discounts household goods store for 17 years.
He said his trade had dropped by up to £4,000 a week and street drinkers were a big problem, although not the only one.
Mr Atkinson said recent council investment of £200,000, and common sense steps like removing a bench where drinkers gathered and cleaning up a public green space which had become a magnet for trouble, have helped turn things around a little - but a lot more needs to be done.
Councillor Asghar Khan, who chairs the Inner East Leeds Area Committee, is now spearheading a push to get a full CIP enforced in several parts of east Leeds. “If we don’t concentrate on areas such as Harehills and Lincoln Green, they will become no-go areas for local residents,” he said.
A Leeds City Council spokeswoman told the YEP: “We are working to create a legal, a practical and a personal approach to prevent the anti-social behaviour of a minority of street drinkers.
“A cumulative impact policy could play an important part in helping to stem the availability of alcohol in a particular area.
“This is only part of the solution however, so along with our partners, we’ll be working directly with the individuals involved.
“For example, a new group in Armley will allow us to give people the support they need to stop the cycle of drinking and anti-social behaviour.
“In addition, we’re putting in extra resources to support people living the local area to provide a provide a long-term, sustainable solution.”
CLAMPDOWN IS ALREADY REAPING SOME SUCCESS
Politicians and the police have worked hard to raise awareness and drive a clampdown on the booze-fuelled trouble plaguing Armley.
Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves carried out an extensive survey in the area gathering anecdotal evidence from shoppers and locals. She said: “There can be little doubt that there is a link between the high number of off-licences in Armley Town Street, selling strong alcohol at a cheap price, and the issues due to street drinking that blight the area.
“The police have powers to ensure current licensees follow the law by not selling to under 18s and people who are clearly drunk, but neither the police or the city council currently have sufficient power to prevent new off-licences opening in Armley. I am hopeful that a Cumulative Impact Policy in Armley will make sure residents have a greater voice in local decisions.”
West Yorkshire Police Superintendent Sam Millar, who heads the Safer Leeds partnership, said: “We are committed to continuing to do everything we can do tackle street drinking and alcohol-related anti-social behaviour that has a detrimental impact on our communities. Designated Public Place Orders and Cumulative Impact Policy are important measures that support our partnership work. We are making full use of the available legislation, including the use of injunctions...and have seen a reduction in complaints. We hope the work towards a Cumulative Impact Policy for the area will bring further improvements.”
WAR MEMORIAL AND LIBRARY AMONG BOOZE BAN HOTSPOTS
Other Yorkshire cities are also making major efforts to clean up their high streets of drink fuelled trouble and drunken loitering.
In York, a cumulative impact zone is in place in Micklegate, Coney Street and back Swinegate/Fossgate.
In November last year, the city’s first Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) was approved for The Groves area, following a survey including local people, North Yorkshire Police and the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.
There are 20 Alcohol Restriction zones (ARZs) in place, including at key community hubs like libraries, community centres and even the war memorial gardens. Some of them date back many years, however the latest zone was enforced in December last year.
Jane Mowat, Head of Community Safety at Community Safety at City of York Council, said: “There is a predicted seven per cent rise in alcohol-related crime in 2015/16 compared to 2014/15.
“However, monthly figures were substantially lower for August to September when Operation Erase was running.
“In relation to the use of legislation, we implemented a PSPO for alcohol-related anti-social behaviour in 2015 but it is too early to say how effective this is.
“This month, additional Community Safety Accreditation powers were granted to our Neighbourhood Enforcement Officers which gives them the power to tackle alcohol-related anti-social behaviour alongside the police’s Safer Neighbourhood Teams which should make an impact.”
Meanwhile in Wakefield, an Alcohol Restriction Zones (ARZ) is in force which covers Wakefield Town Centre, Trinity Walk, and Eastmoor playing fields.
In Bradford, an extended drinking in Public Places Designation Order has been in force in the city centre since 2003. Similar orders are in place in Bingley, Shipley and Keighley town centres and West Bowling.