Crime-hit Luton shop owner criticises council for delaying security improvements
The owners of a comic shop in High Town have criticised Luton Council for not letting them improve the shop’s security after a number of break-ins.
Barry Fearn and Peter Davidson have been running Ahh Geek Out in High Town Road for two years and in that time the business has been broken in to on three occasions, with a number of attempted break-ins too – the latest incident being last week.
The duo has criticised Luton Council for not letting them improve the security by adding roller-shutters to the front of the shop, similar to those protecting nearby businesses.
Barry, managing director, said: “In the past few months we have had two break-ins and two attempted break-ins. When they broke in they ransacked the place and took anything of value.
“Since we came to the street two years ago, we have been targeted several times, on three occasions they have managed to break in to the shop.
“We want to be able to provide better security for the shop, but we are being restricted by Luton Council. Why are we not allowed to, but other businesses on High Town Road are allowed?
“A number of shops have these roller-shutters but we are not allowed them.
“We have been told by the council it is a conservation area, but we are open from 9am till 10pm every day, so people who go on the conservation walks would not even see our shutters.
“I have been told that it is a £20,000 fine if we install shutters. I spoke to a neighbour, who has now left, and he had a shutter. He said that he was fined but just never paid it. I just couldn’t have a fine like that and let it hang over me.
“I cannot understand why it is one rule for my business and another rule for other businesses on the street.
“It is a busy high street but the shop is still being targeted.
“The problem is that if we keep having to go to the insurance every time someone breaks in or causes damage by trying to break in, it will affect the cost of insurance.
“I feel like I’m being driven out of my shop.
“I have got a meeting with the council and I just want some answers.”
As the Luton News went to press, Barry said he had just had his meeting with the council which appeared to be “a bit more positive”.
He said: “It seemed like it might go in my favour and then they said I would have to apply to planning to get shutters, which could take 8 to 9 weeks, so it feels like I’m stuck.
“I asked for a solid door as a bit of extra security and they said I would need to apply for that as well.
“I’m still stuck in limbo and my business is still vulnerable.
“The application could take a while but hopefully I can get the ball rolling now and I can improve the security here.”
A spokesman for Luton Council said: “We were very sorry to hear about the recent break-in at Ahh Geek Out!, one of the many unique independent businesses that bring variety and character to our town.
“As soon as we were made aware of the owners’ concerns we got in touch to arrange a meeting at their earliest convenience. This took place yesterday afternoon [January 28].”
“As this business sits within a Conservation Area, approved by members in 1998, a balance must be struck between preserving the visual quality of the area and ensuring the safety and security of businesses.
“During our meeting with Barry and Peter, we advised on the best options for them and tried to offer realistic timescales for the necessary paperwork and application processes.
"The necessity to apply for planning permission before the security alterations can be installed is a statutory requirement, which the council is legally unable to waive.
"We will, of course, do all that we can to ensure that their applications are processed as efficiently as possible, and that any ongoing questions are responded to promptly.
“We will also review and investigate any fresh claims that other shops in the area have shutters which breach planning regulations, and take appropriate action.”
Bedfordshire Police are investigating an attempted break-in at Ahh Geek Out at around 12.30am on Thursday, January 23.
A police spokesman said: “Two offenders attempted to burgle the business by forcing the front gate and damaging the door frame.
“They were disturbed and left the scene on foot towards the train station. They were described as white, around 30 to 50-years-old, one was wearing a blue sweatshirt.
“Anyone with any information is asked to contact 101 or report online at www.bedfordshire.pnn.police.uk/report, quoting reference 40/4593/20. Alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.”
Luton Today approached Luton Council for a comment.