Cornwall Council has said that it is working together with all agencies to tackle problems with drugs and anti-social behaviour in towns across the county.

The authority has spoken out in response to concerns about issues in St Austell town centre which have led to a petition being launched calling on the council to take more action to rid the town of a “heroin problem”.

However the council said that the problems are not unique to St Austell and said that it has been working to address them in towns across the Duchy.

And the council disputed comments made by the town’s MP Steve Double who claimed that the council had been disproportionately placing people with drug problems in the town without support.

Rob Nolan, Cabinet member for public protection, said: “This is a national problem, it is not a St Austell problem or a Cornwall problem it is national.

“Several Cornish towns if they saw what has been written about St Austell they would say it is happening here too.

“We are working hard on it with the police and the Police and Crime Commissioner and agencies, but we are stretched.

“We are meeting Steve Double later today and hope to work with him as well.

“We don’t want to see this in our town centres and are working hard with all agencies to improve the situation.”

Kim Hager, joint commissioning manager for the communities service at Cornwall Council, explained that prior to lockdown there had been some improvements in St Austell.

She said: “(Prior to lockdown) we did have a very high profile campaign and it was going very well. There was a recognised increased presence on the streets and that was quite visible.

“But collective memory is quite short and lockdown was long.

“This is multi-faceted, we have the individuals that have multiple problems and we have quieter streets so they are more visible.”

Read next: Campaign to save Penlee lifeboat 'The Brothers'

But she said that it was important for people to report issues so that the various agencies can provide help and support for the individuals affected.

“If it is reported through the agreed channels it triggers a response. If you see a homeless person and report it to street link we can target support to help.

“If you report drug litter it triggers a response from the drug and alcohol team who not only look at the waste but also go to the drug outreach and the place and seek the individuals and engage them and usually that is very successful.”

Kim encouraged people to report through the official channels and not to post on social media as the official channels would result in a better response.

She said: “If the public use social media it takes us longer to catch up with that and it doesn’t always get the response we want.

“We have been highlighting the ways that people can report issues and we will be doing more with that.”

More patrols are also being undertaken in towns, including St Austell, both by the police and by agency workers.

Kim said: “Pre lockdown there were lots of patrols in our towns, all the major towns including St Austell, with both local services and the police involved in those.

“They include the likes of Harbour Housing who are now patrolling in St Austell. You don’t always know who is who, they don’t all have tabards or labels saying who they are.

“Those patrols are happening and we are increasing them.”

She also disputed claims by Mr Double that more homeless people were being placed in St Austell than other areas in Cornwall.

“We had the rough sleeping initiative during lockdown which put people into accommodation and they are now moving from that. They are not all being rehoused in St Austell they are going to areas where they have connections and provisions.

“We have also had prison discharges which were held off during lockdown but are coming back now.”

One important part of the approach taken to help those who are identified is to ensure that all agencies are involved.

Falmouth Packet:

There have been concerns about drug use in St Austell town centre

Kim said: “We will have a list of the people that need help and support, we will discuss them and we will come up with a multi-agency care plan.

“There is a balance between enforcement and support and we make that happen in tandem. We get all the intelligence we can about the individual and then get everyone together so that we have all the information that is needed.

“We will then draw up a plan and we will meet and discuss them daily. It is not a huge number of people but there are people with multiple problems.

“Some of them are quite resistant to help or are entrenched in their problems, that is why we engage people and go to them rather than getting them to come to an office or a centre.

“Some have deteriorated quite badly during lockdown and require much more intensive support which we are putting in place.”

Simon Mould, service director for communities at Cornwall Council, told a meeting of the neighbourhoods overview and scrutiny committee that the council was “driving very hard” to help St Austell.

He said: “I want to give some assurance that we are fully aware of the ongoing concerns about anti-social behaviour, drug litter and open drug taking.”

He reiterated that the Safer Cornwall Partnership was working with multi agency partners to address the problems.

“We have put in place additional patrols and we have additional outreach workers and supporting housing providers.

“We are also looking at how we can increase our capacity for additional outreach workers to work with those individuals specifically in question.

“The police have been successful in getting additional funding for resources in St Austell and yesterday had three positive arrests.

“We are having ongoing multi-agency meetings so that we understand the individuals and key issues.”

Mr Mould said that the council was looking to provide a needle exchange service in the town and additional disposal bins in the town.

He added: “We are driving this very hard, we are developing a six week plan and have an urgent meeting on July 27.”

Mr Mould said that one of the reasons the council was able to respond so quickly and effectively was due to the Safer St Austell programme which meant that agencies were already working together and had provision in place.