Beggars and drunks - councillor describes his walk through Luton town centre

“Anyone from out-of-town would never come back after that experience”

By Euan Duncan, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 10:29 am

The reality of visiting the centre of Luton and walking through the town has been laid bare by a borough councillor.

Liberal Democrat Wigmore councillor Pete Chapman told the local authority’s overview and scrutiny board: “I drove to this meeting and decided to park in the old Bute Street (bus station) car park.

“When I went to the ticket machine there was a beggar who proceeded to try and run the machine for me, and then asked for money.

Cllr Pete Chapman (inset) says people are giving up on Luton town centre

“Eventually I managed to get my ticket and put it in the car. I walked into the top end of Bute Street and there were some drunks who’d just been thrown out of a nearby pub.

“There were some other people drinking on the performance area to your left and more drinking on the seats in front of the easyHotel.

“As I walked down Bute Street there was a beggar just as you went into The Mall. As I came down the ramp from the shopping centre, there was someone drunk and asleep in the flower bed.

“And then as I turned towards the town hall there were people drinking on the seats in front of the old gas showroom.”

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Councillor Chapman referred to an earlier discussion about a drop in the number of people coming into the town centre, adding: “I’m not surprised we’re getting fewer complaints because many people have given up.

“My concern is the volume of relentless enforcement. You’re right that operation Foresight had an effect.

“But it’s gone back to the level where it was before. This report is to a degree a series of well-meaning good-hearted ideas, but a bit wishy-washy particularly the agreed joint objectives.

“So how many bodies will be enforcing things in the town centre? If £200,000 isn’t enough to make a difference, you might as well tell people.

“From Bedfordshire Police we need to know how many hours a week are we getting and how many bodies patrolling. We need more signs and some above the machines in Bute Street car park saying: ‘Don’t give money to any beggars who might be standing by this machine.

“Anyone from out-of-town would never come back after that experience. It would absolutely finish them off.

“One of the concerns has been the out-of-hours. It’s bad enough in the day. At night time interventions have gone down because it’s like a ghost town now.”

The council’s service manager Vicky Hawkes replied: “You summed up the reason we’ve put together these plans to move forward. Extra signage and being clear on our messaging is really important.

“That’s why we wanted an operational fund. There are some low cost interventions which can have a big impact and we need to facilitate those as quickly as possible.”

Chief Insp Jamie Langwith, from Bedfordshire Police, said: “If people experience what you have that isn’t nice and they won’t necessarily return. We work really hard in the town centre to get it right.”