COUNCIL officers, business owners and Community Safety Patrol Officers (CSPO) have been undertaking a factfinding mission on how best to clean up the Top of The Town.

As previously reported in The Gazette, traders in the town centre said they are being blighted by ‘intimidating’ behaviour caused by ‘hangers on’ in the area.

This sparked businesses in the Top of The Town into launching a petition, which is said to be signed by 97 per cent of traders in the area, to ask Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council (BDBC) to assist with helping clear up anti-social issues.

The aim of the petition is to promote the Top of The Town and its independent character and diversity by making it more attractive to people around the Basingstoke area to help increase footfall.

Tuesday, August 7, was the first day of the three-day factfinding exercise, something chair of the Top of Town Association, Alan Stone said is a positive step forward.

Mr Stone said: “Since our original conversations with the council we have seen more of a presence of CSPOs and that has led to a clear indication of the number of beggars diminish.

“It just shows what a conscious effort by partnerships can do really help.”

The Squirrels Antiques owner added: “All we ask for is a nice environment that we can work in and make this area of town a desirable place for shoppers to visit.”

Part of the idea of heading out of the streets was to find how many people were genuine rough sleepers and who were just begging.

Volunteers from Julian House outreach programme said on the first day they found in the town centre only two people who were genuine rough sleepers.

The group said the best thing residents can do is donate money to charity rather than giving money directly to the people on the streets, as then this money will go to those people who actually need it.

The borough council-led Social Inclusion Partnership (SIP), along with the Town Centre Programme, is improving the look and feel of the Top of the Town and supporting businesses.

Councillor Terri Reid, deputy leader of BDBC who has been involved in the SIP and Town Centre Programme, said a joint effort is needed to make the Top of The Town somewhere people want to visit.

Cllr Reid said: “We are already starting to see a change in the Top of The Town, since the installation of the Jane Austen statue outside the Willis Museum. It’s almost like the Jane factor and the Willis Museum have seen more footfall since as well.”

She added: “This outreach programme is a great opportunity for council officers and businesses to have that one-toone channel to get to the bottom of the challenges facing the Top of The Town.”