THREE-QUARTERS of visitors to Bournemouth have said they are put off from returning to the town because of the prevalence of rough sleeping.

Bournemouth Town Centre BID (business improvement district), which represents businesses, said the number of anti-social behaviour incidents had increased four-fold over the past year.

And its chairman, Martin Davies, has called on Dorset Police to step up its work to tackle anti-social behaviour in the area.

“One could be forgiven for thinking Bournemouth and Poole are in critical, nosedive decline and that somewhere a magic wand needs to be waved to sort the issues,” Mr Davies said at Monday's meeting of BCP Council's scrutiny board.

“What we can do is identify areas that are within our control and within our competence and look to improve the areas we can.”

He said there were a number of issues that could help improve the town centre from improving short-term car parking arrangements to making the planning process more simple.

But, he said, issues associated with aggressive begging and street sleeping were the most often cited by respondents to its visitors' survey, carried out during the Winter Wonderland event.

“These are policing issues and of police resources,” Mr Davies added. “If the police – as they consistently do – tell us they do not have the resources to patrol the town regularly then that’s something we need to lobby more.

“I’m not despondent about the future of Bournemouth and there is a danger we get over obsessed with navel gazing. What we need to do is work together to promote the good and change what we can.”

But, the Conservative chairman of the scrutiny board, councillor Philip Broadhead, said the council needed “to consider immediate action to stem this issue”.

Cabinet member for communities, councillor Lewis Allison, said: “We recognise that behaviour such as begging has an impact on our high streets.

"The council has expressed its commitment to tackling street-based anti-social behaviour through approaches being applied in our town centres that are modelled around the need to ensure and prioritise support of the most vulnerable people in our communities."

Police chief inspector Pete Browning, said the force was working with businesses and the council to tackle the issue.

“We recognise the vulnerability of someone who is homeless and the concerns raised by the BIDs, hence our commitment to the BCP Homelessness Reduction Partnership," he said. "However, where it is lawful and proportionate we will use our police powers.

"The local neighbourhood team works closely with the CSAS (Community Safety Accreditation Scheme) staff and the town rangers to provide a visible presence and discuss and deal with emerging issues.

“Dorset Police, like every other police force, has had to make difficult resourcing decisions in recent years with the reduction in police numbers.

"The longer term investment in police recruitment will increase on the existing numbers within neighbourhood policing to provide a more visible presence for our communities.”