Councillors and community leaders have spoken of their shock after evidence was found that homeless people have been sleeping rough in the doorway of a former flagship store.
A mattress and abandoned pizza box was found in the old Garden Street entrance of the ex-JR Taylor shop in St Annes by long-time Chamber of Trade co-ordinator Arnold Sumner, who said: “Whatever next?
“In all my decades in St Annes, I have never known of people sleeping rough in shop doorways and to see this is a real concern for all of us.”
The discovery comes almost two years to the day since JR Taylor closed – and added further to concerns over the fate of the landmark premises fronting St Annes Square which remain empty and to let.
Arnold added: “It’s a sad sight and the discovery of evidence of rough sleeping in the doorway makes it even sadder.”
Bev Wood, chairman of the St Annes Enterprise Partnership (STEP), said: “The JR site has been vacant for far too long, although we are aware that it is being actively marketed and that there has been much interest.
“We have our quarter one STEP public meeting next Wednesday, where Fylde Council’s chief executive Allan Oldfield will be available to take questions on the status of the JR’s site, as well as other town matters.
“Businesses and residents alike are very welcome to attend and STEP will certainly be asking the question as to what the plans are for this prominent town centre site.
“Councillors are aware of the way the doorways of JR Taylors are being used at night and plans are in hand to deal with this.”
Fylde Council leader Coun Sue Fazackerley said: “I am truly saddened by the continued emptiness of this iconic building.
“It feels as if the very heart of the town has stopped beating and this was keenly felt, I believe, by both residents and visitors in the run-up to Christmas.
“This once vibrant store is now looking the worse for wear and rather desolate.
“I wish I had a pound for every person who has asked me what’s happening to the store but it is not a council matter – apart from our concern for its future – as it is privately owned.
“As far as rough sleepers are concerned, the council is aware that there are a small number of rough sleepers in the borough at the moment and the housing team have visited them to provide advice and encourage them to engage with the housing team to access services and relevant support.
“We are happy to assist within the boundaries in relation to homelessness legislation.
“Support can be provided, for example housing advice and relocation to area where a local connection has been identified.
“There are often a number of factors as to why someone is street homeless and this can include mental health, alcohol and drug issues. We can make referrals to other statutory agencies to assist with these issues but this will require engagement from the individuals concerned.
“We work closely with other charitable agencies that can provide support and access to suitable accommodation but only when an individual has started to engage with the services that are available.
“There are emergency provisions should the weather deteriorate and put street homeless people at risk of severe harm.
“If the street temperature falls below zero for three consecutive nights we operate what is called SWEP – Severe Weather Emergency Protocol – when all rough sleepers are provided with accommodation until the temperature rises. Under SWEP, local connection does not apply.
“We also have NSNO – No Second Night Out. That is for all new rough sleepers – five nights of temporary accommodation in order for them to start to access support. This can be extended if individuals begin to work with us to access support services and accommodation.”
Coun Tony Ford, a former mayor of St Annes whose Fylde Council ward covers the former store, said: “I reported the rough sleepers to Fylde Council and have been assured that assistance has been offered to them.
“I am disappointed that no commercial organisations have taken on the premises but with massive increases on business rates imposed by this government, then commercial ventures are loathe to investment and high streets suffer as a result.
“However, I have heard relatively recently that a business had taken a strong interest and I hope something comes of it.”
The four-storey former store premises are being marketed by Duxburys Commercial estate agents of Blackpool, who list it on their website at a rental of £137,500 per annum.
Duxburys were approached by the Express for a comment but hadn’t replied by the time we went to press.
The STEP meeting next Wednesday is at the Aztex venue at The Island on St Annes seafront and starts at 6.15pm, with everyone welcome.