Prospects running wild

By Sam Hurley

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Lawrence Yule says a number of Hastings shopkeepers have asked for increased security.
Lawrence Yule says a number of Hastings shopkeepers have asked for increased security.

Hastings retailers say they work in fear with large groups of delinquent youths taking control of the CBD with rampant shoplifting, intimidation tactics and drug dealing.

A local shop owner said the city's streets are being "terrorised" by "prospect kids", as authorities run the risk of crime becoming uncontrollable.

"These prospect kids are running the town, I don't know why they don't have an election," he said.

"It's absolutely disgusting, they are terrorising the streets. The shoplifting is chronic, and the mayoral candidates seem to be losing track of what's going on in this town."

The man, who declined to be named, said he had been in local retail for more than 30 years and has had his window smashed by a thrown brick, but has never seen Hastings inner city "so bad".

"Without a doubt it has affected retail business, it is a bad image for Hastings - clients are now too scared to come into the CBD, as these guys are a real threat.

The mayoral candidates tell us this is only a perceived threat, but as Saturday's incident shows it's very real," he said.

"Police don't seem to have any presence in the inner city anymore."

The latest incident involved a brawl on Heretaunga St West between two groups of youths, just prior to the Blossom Parade on Saturday.

A local hairdresser said she saw the street brawl erupt which left an elderly man bloodied and beaten.

"I came out of the barbers and there were two groups of kids fighting in the street, there was lots of foul mouth language.

"It moved to the middle of Southland Rd and it just erupted.

"Somewhere in the middle a man in his 60s got caught among it. I saw the man getting beaten up - there was blood coming out of his mouth and the side of his face was bleeding."

She said police were called and the groups scrambled when police arrived.

The local shop keeper also recalled the Saturday tussle: "My employee tells me kids lining up for the blossom parade were crying after seeing it, there was blood everywhere, a real disgrace. These guys are lots of trouble," he said.

A central Hastings shopkeeper, who asked to remain anonymous, said she spoke on behalf of a number of businesses by saying retailers were fed up and fearful of leaving their workplace in the evening.

"We are sick and tired of these kids scaring us, coming into our shops, shoplifting, intimidating us," she said.

"Staff are scared to go to their cars after work and there is drug dealing going on in the middle of Hastings."

She said it was hard enough in tough economic times to make a living without the added stress and fear of unruly youths.

"I know we don't get as many tourists as Napier but what do the tourists think when they come to Hastings, the language is absolutely disgusting.

"It would be nice to have our town back. They need to clean it up or there will be no business here, people have been having a tough time of it as it is, people just don't feel safe anymore."

Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said a number of shopkeepers had raised the issue with him, especially over school holiday periods, and asked for more security.

"I think we are going to have to intervene, though, with youths basically loitering and acting intimidating in the CBD, it is damaging for retailers," Mr Yule said.

"I am keen for the people to take the CBD back from the small number of people intimidating everyone else.

"We can ask them to move on and if they are doing something illegal they will be dealt with."

He said a number of the shopkeepers are also worried about skateboards in the CBD and when a new skateboard park opens in October a skateboard ban in the inner city will be rigidly enforced.

He said when referring to the brawl, it was an "absolute shame" that a small minority had ruined an otherwise great Blossom Parade for a few people.

Inspector Andrew Sloan said statistically there had been no increase in reported thefts or shoplifting in the city centre however, as summer approached police did expect an increase.

"We haven't seen any new trends develop.

"Further up the road by McDonald's and Pak n Save supermarket we have had problems with youths congregating around there and acting intimidating, but we have been pro-active about that an increased our patrols in that particular area."

He said that, as a community, the people of Hastings should not have to put up with any criminal or intimidating behaviour in their CBD. "Let us know and we will respond, the earlier we know the better.

"We are more than happy to come and ask people to move along if people feel they are being intimidating and obviously if someone sees any criminal activity we need to know."

He said resources to prevent CBD problems were in place, such as police, community and council patrols but people should not hesitate to call police or phone crimestoppers anonymously.

Hastings City Business Association city centre manager Susan McDade said there is a perception these youths are causing security and safety concerns in reality "they are not actually doing anything".

"There are large groups of kids hanging around and this can be intimidating for some retailers," she said.

"What we need to do is give them something to do, which hopefully the skate park will give when opened."

She said any problem Hastings experienced is not different than any other town center. A new initiative from November will see city assist ambassadors walking the streets, she said.

"They will primarily be there to help people who are lost or want to know information but they will also be another set of eyes on the ground."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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