Firm rapped over problem with rough sleepers at store

ANGRY councillors have criticised a national retailer’s stance about a problem premises.

Town council members said Boots should have helped to solve the situation of rough sleepers next to its Bognor Regis store.

The company owns the neighbouring former WH Smith shop, which has been vacant for six months. That period has seen its twin doorways become inhabited by several individuals for sitting and sleeping.

Councillors have joined town centre manager Toyubur Rahman in unsuccesfully seeking assistance from Boots to put hoardings up in the doorways to stop them offering shelter.

The shop is set to become a Sports Direct outlet soon but Monday’s town council meeting saw Boots subject to severe criticism.

Cllr Paul Wells (LD, Hotham) said he tried to have the doorways boarded up but added: “Boots told me they were not going to put in any money to put up hoardings. That’s quite shocking for a major chain that has got a presence in the London Road precinct.

“They have a responsibility to this town. They want shoppers to go in their shop and have a good experience but they are allowing what goes on next door, which is part of their premises.”

He claimed only one or two of the individuals who used the doorways were homeless. The rest used the site as a ‘lifestyle choice’.

Cllr Roger Nash (L, Pevensey) said: “The area outside the former Smiths is one of the key problems we have.

“Some of the drinking and swearing that goes on there is not a good advertisement for Bognor. It is negating what Toyubur is trying to do. It’s really frustrating. It is totally unacceptable and brings this town into disrepute.”

Boots should be told to put up hoardings if Sports Direct failed to occupy the building, he said. But he warned the expected arrival of the sports retailer just risked moving the problem elsewhere. Mr Rahman said he had offered to get hoardings put up but Boots had refused to re-imburse him the expected £1,000 cost: “I will be keeping the pressure up on them,” he said

A Boots spokeswoman said yesterday the company was proud of its presence on high streets and worked closely with the local community and other retailers.

“It is imperative that our properties meet strict health and safety regulations at all times, including clear fire escape routes and access for refurbishment.

“Our property in Bognor Regis is currently undergoing improvement works and therefore regular access to the store is required,” she said.

“Throughout the process of letting this vacant property, we have done everything we can to work with the local council on an agreeable solution without jeopardising the health and safety of our colleagues and customers.”

WH Smith moved out last September 11 for the British Bookshop premises on the precinct’s opposite side.