COUNCIL leaders have said it is critical that the widespread perception of Darlington town centre as an antisocial hotspot is reversed.

A meeting of Darlington Borough Council’s place scrutiny committee was told there was “reams” of complaints written on social media sites about gangs in the town centre, portraying the area as a dangerous place to be.

The committee’s chairman, Councillor Bob Carson said: “Reputation takes a long time to turn around. The actual amount of violence taking place in the town centre is very very low, but people do feel threatened by any large groups of people running around in the town centre.”

The authority’s community safety portfolio holder, Councillor Helen Crumbie said the town centre Public Safety Protection Order, which was launched last week, would help target those behind persistent antisocial behaviour.

Cllr Crumbie said: “A lot of this is public perception. Crime levels are down but there has been a slight spike in antisocial behaviour with youths and a lot of work is going into that with our civic enforcement team.”

Councillor Chris McEwan, the authority’s deputy leader, said he was confident and assured there a “fair and more robust approach” to tackling the antisocial behaviour in the town centre was in place.

He added: “It is critical that it is safe and that it is perceived to be safe.”