Preston Guild Hall’s concourse is being used by rough sleepers to drink and take drugs.
Despite having on-site security, Preston City Council is seeking additional help from the police to patrol the area, and is carrying out regular clean-up operations after discovering drug paraphernalia and other waste products on the outdoor terrace.
Neighbour Steven Fludder, who works on the door at the adjacent Stanley Arms pub, said the problems started around eight weeks ago, when then-owner Simon Rigby closed the doors of the venue after failing to reach an agreement with a management company to run the Guild Hall. The council has since taken back control of the hall.
Mr Fludder said families with young children had seen homeless people injecting drugs on the outdoor first-floor terrace, which can be accessed by steps at the front of the building.
He also claims he is kept awake by “constant arguing” during the night, and incidents of violence.
He said: “It started with just a couple living there, but it’s steadily been getting worse and now there’s quite a few.
“It’s a sheltered place, out of the way, where they literally do drugs on the floor and pass out.
“They argue all night too, and because of the hot weather and having windows open, you can hear everything.
“I understand that homeless people need help and a place to go, but this is different. This is people openly taking drugs, violence, and anti-social behaviour right in the city centre.
“Last Sunday the police were called because one of them turned on their own. It’s frustrating because there’s meant to be 24-hour security on the building.
“And it’s so easily accessible - all they (Preston Council) put up was a waist-height crowd barrier, but people would step over it at first, but now it’s just been moved.”
On Sunday, August 4, police and paramedics were called to the Guild Hall after a 36-year-old man was punched in the face and had his bike stolen by three men who ran off from the scene.
Lancashire Police said the man was was assaulted and robbed on Sunday was taken to hospital by ambulance and discharged the following day. No arrests have been made and investigations are ongoing.
On the issue of drug-taking and rough sleeping at the site, a force spokesman said: “We are aware of the matter and neighbourhood police, as well as officers from Preston Council, are working together to address the issues raised.”
Preston City Council triggered a claw-back on the venue in June after “significant breaches of the lease agreement” by businessman Mr Rigby, who bought the 999-year lease for £1 in 2014.
Neil Fairhurst, deputy chief executive and director of customer services, said: “Preston City Council is aware of the current situation regarding rough sleepers and other vulnerable adults gathering at the Guild Hall.
“We are working closely with our colleagues at the Foxton Centre and the Police to gain further information about the individuals in order to make the best decisions moving forward.
“The council carried out cleaning of the Guild Hall Terrace on Wednesday and removed various evidence of drug taking and other waste products. Following this the Neighbourhood Services team will be implementing a regular cleansing plan in a bid to disrupt this type of behaviour reoccurring.
“During the operating hours of the Guild Hall, there is a security firm onsite. Due to the severity of these issues after hours, we are seeking further help from the Police to patrol this area.
“If any members of the public witness anti-social behaviour or drug taking please call the Police immediately.”
City centre issues
Town centre Coun Salim Desai said he had not had any complaints about people misusing the Guild Hall, but was aware of “very serious issues within the city centre”.
He said: “I do know of issues like this nearby the Guild Hall, so it would be a natural move there. A lot of homeless people and rough sleepers also used to hang out in the Market car park, but now it’s being demolished, they’ve been displaced.
“We are aware of the problems we’ve got in the city centre, and we are making decisions on how to tackle it. It will take finances and resources, and luckily we do have some funding from central Government for that purpose.
“People do need to be co-operative though, they need to be open to help. For some homeless people it’s a lifestyle they want to carry on.”
Kay Johnson of The Larder, a cafe on the other side of the Guild Hall to the Stanley Arms, said she “was aware of people hanging around” the closed building, but had not had any problems with rough sleepers or drug users.
A spokesman for Singers Outdoors, which traded in Lancaster Road for decades before moving online in 2016, said: “We always did have problems with people hanging around at the back of the shop and around that area, it’s not a new problem.”