Push to fight public perception on town centres: 'It's not a bad place, it just needs improvement'

(clockwise from top) Stockton, Yarm and Billingham town centres
-Credit: (Image: Teesside Live)

Crime is falling but people still feel unsafe in Stockton's town centres, councillors heard.

Stockton Council is trying to combat misperceptions about Stockton, Billingham, Yarm, Norton, Thornaby and Ingleby Barwick. Chiefs say confidence is returning and crime figures are falling but potential visitors and investors still have a poor view of the towns' safety.

The council's community safety select committee is launching a seven-month review looking at "welcoming and safe town centres". Committee chair Councillor Paul Rowling said: "We're going to listen to evidence from each of the town centres and establish what different issues there are in each regarding safety.

"I think it's worth pointing out Stockton as a borough, when you speak to people from around Teesside and the region, has a good reputation for good town centres, both from the daytime economy and the nighttime economy. We really just want to be doing what we can to make that even better.

"I don't want this review to come from a point of view that all our town centres are awful and full of issues. I think there's some really strong things about all of them."

Community safety assistant director Marc Stephenson
Community safety assistant director Marc Stephenson

Community safety assistant director Marc Stephenson said they wanted to scrutinise community safety work and reassure people: "The rate of crime being committed and reported in town centres is reducing, and confidence is returning in many pockets. However we're in a strange situation because we've got an issue around public perception of safety.

"Our town centres are statistically safer, but we've got a real historic challenge ahead of us to convince our residents and our communities that town centres are a safe and welcoming place to come back in to to do business, enjoy some leisure time and spend some time with family.

"We'll be looking to get a balanced view in terms of what we're doing currently, how well it's working, what impact it's having and what other ideas people have to try and move things on as we embark on our ambitious regeneration programmes across many of our town centres."

Cllr Norma Stephenson said: "Perception is what people read on Facebook etc, 'I never come into Stockton but I daren't.' I think, if you never come in, how do you know? When we say 'welcoming', we mean everybody. We mean people who are down on their luck, we mean people who have come here for refuge.

"The messages you get are people don't want certain individuals to come into Stockton, well it's their town as well. I think as long as they're willing to behave themselves they should be as welcome as anybody else."

She suggested more signage in town centres: "If we want people to feel like they're welcome, put a sign up and tell them they're welcome."

Cllr Norma Stephenson
Cllr Norma Stephenson -Credit:Katie Lunn/Teesside Live

Cllr Ann McCoy stressed the importance of ensuring people working in town centres felt safe. Cllr Jason French said he wanted to talk up the towns: "There's far too much about talking the town down.

"It is a great place, we just need to make it greater. It's not a bad place, it just needs improvement."

The council's report says more CCTV, enforcement officers and its first public space protection orders (PSPOs) targeting aggressive begging and street drinking in Stockton and Norton centres led to a "sustained reductions in key areas of crime and disorder. Despite this, however, the public perception of town centre safety continues to be poor amongst prospective visitors and also commercial investors."

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