Stratford Centre: Opening hours could be cut back over safety complaints

A proposal to close the Stratford Centre at night will be consulted on in the coming months. Picture

A proposal to close the Stratford Centre at night will be consulted on in the coming months. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

A consultation taking in the potential night-time closure of the Stratford Centre is set to get under way next month, Newham Council has confirmed.

A rough sleeper on the floors of the Stratford Centre. Picture: Archant

A rough sleeper on the floors of the Stratford Centre. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Wide-ranging proposals for the site are in the process of being finalised and residents, businesses, police and charities as well as centre management will have their views sought over the summer.

The shopping mall is currently a public right of way, meaning the owners are legally obliged to keep it open 24 hours a day.

It serves as a key artery for commuters travelling between stations and has at times been used by dozens of rough sleepers as a place to bed down at night.

In their monthly briefing for residents of Stratford & New Town, Councillors Joshua Garfield, Nareser Osei and Terry Paul wrote: "Our understanding is that the current strategy is for the Mall to close at night due to the levels of criminal activity".

The council confirmed this week that a consultation is expected to launch at the end of June.

A spokeswoman said: "Conditions in the Stratford Centre at night are having a significant impact on the vulnerable homeless people who bed down there due to increased anti-social behaviour and criminal activity.

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"Residents who go there to shop with their families and use it as a route to and from the stations and Westfield have raised concerns about safety, as have workers and small business owners.

"There have also been complaints about the unacceptable level of cleanliness in the mall as a result of people using certain areas, both inside the mall and in surrounding service roads, as an open toilet creating a risk to public health.

"Newham Council has expanded its outreach activity within the centre to encourage and sign post people off the streets and is proposing a consultation on possible solutions including future opening times at the centre."

The mall, a stone's throw away from the Westfield Shopping Centre, has hit the headlines repeatedly since 2014 due to the number of homeless people forced to bed down on the premises at night.

In the early hours of January 29 last year some 41 people were controversially thrown out ahead of three weeks of night-time closures for electrical works.

At least two rough sleepers died at the Stratford Centre in 2018, in January and June, with both informally attributed to the illegal drug Spice.

Last month squatters were evicted from Stratford Office Village and have now reportedly had to sleep in the mall and surrounding areas instead.

There have also been numerous incidents of violent crime and in March 2018 a 21-year-old man, Benjamin Pieknyi, died after being set upon by five men and stabbed in an unprovoked attack.

In a letter published in the Newham Recorder this week, the manager of the Stratford Centre, Tony Davis, Gianluca Rizzo of the Stratford Business Improvement district and David Richards of nearby St John's Church appeared to throw their weight behind some form of decisive action.

Their letter cited many of the same concerns as the council, reporting a "deteriorating and dangerous" situation that "present[s] challenges for the staff and management at the mall and other surrounding businesses".

They added: "A local long-term solution must be found. We pledge to offer whatever help we can to support the authorities - but they must act urgently."

In the past 12 months the council has introduced a series of measures aiming to tackle rough sleeping in the borough.

A 20-bed assessment centre in Canning Town, run by Caritas Anchor House and staffed by mental health and drug and alcohol treatment specialists, opened its doors in December 2018 while a charity-run night shelter has been given funding to stay open for two more months a year, now available from October to April.

Emergency accommodation provision has increased to 30 beds in Newham and a seven-strong outreach team is currently being recruited.

The spokeswoman added: "Any decision about the range of solutions including future opening times of the centre will take into full account the impact on vulnerable street homeless people and could only be delivered in tandem with a fully-developed programme of support for the centre's rough sleepers, in line with the council's approach to addressing street homeless with compassion and care."