TRADERS have said they are outraged at plans to create a needle exchange for drug addicts on their doorstep.

The shopkeepers, who run businesses in Nelson town centre, hit out after voluntary organisation CRI announced plans to convert a prominent building into a support centre for drug and alcohol misuse.

The proposed centre will house a needle exchange where heroin users will be able to swap used syringes for new ones.

It will also offer a range of support services to alcoholics, offenders serving community sentences and homeless people.

But traders described the Manchester Road building, which is in the pedestrianised zone, as a ‘totally inappropriate’ place for the scheme.

They said it would attract the ‘wrong kind’ of people to the area and discourage shoppers from venturing into the town centre, which already includes a number of empty units.

Concerns have also been raised over the affect it will have on the town’s image.

Bosses at CRI are now being urged to look at alternative sites outside the main shopping area, possibly near the Yarnspinners health centre.

The organisation has applied to Pendle Council to create the centre in the empty building, which is best known as the former office of Conservative North West MEP and former borough councillor Sajaad Karim, who used to represent the Liberal Democrat party.

The company has an operation in Blackpool but the centre planned for Nelson would be its first in East Lancashire.

Tony Corke, manager at Optical Express opticians, which is next door, said: “I‘m not happy with it at all.

“It is a struggle to get this business going anyway, but to have that on my doorstep would make it even worse.

“This feels like another stumbling block.

“Shoppers will be put off and intimidated by people hanging around the centre and will avoid us.”

Nicholas Emery, chairman of the town centre partnership, said there were already too many non-retail outlets in the heart of the town.

Mr Emery, who runs an Electronic Components business in Market Square, said: “We know the sort of people who will be coming to the needle exchange and the last thing we need is more dead legs hanging around the town centre.

“It will stop people who need to do their shopping from coming in.

“I know these things have to be done but not in the middle of the town centre.

“People standing smoking outside the Lord Nelson, which is two doors down, already intimidates prospective shoppers.

“Across the road there is the probation office so we will be looking at that on one side and a needle exchange on the other side.”

Under Pendle Council policy, at least 75 per cent of premises in the main town centre streets should be filled by shops.

Coun Eileen Ansar, who runs Slick Clothing opposite the building, said the application had been ‘called in’ to the Nelson Committee.

She said: “People do not want to see that kind of thing when they bring their children into the town centre.

“I know they need somewhere to go for treatment but the middle of the town centre is not an appropriate place.

“Something like this would probably be a big deterrent to anyone wanting to open a shop.”