YOUNGSTERS taking 'legal highs' in the town centre after 9pm will be taken home by police officers under new plans to tackle the problem.
Police officers have been given powers to stop anyone under 16 behaving in an antisocial way in Mandela Gardens and the surrounding area after it emerged groups of youths were congregating there to take substances.
The six month dispersal order came into force last Friday after complaints from nearby businesses that youths had been taking drugs, vomiting, urinating and fighting.
The order operates for 24 hours and covers the area between Church Street, Kendray Street, Schwäbisch Gmünd Way and Old Mill Lane.
Police said staff working on the Arcade and on Eldon Street feared for their own and customers' safety after kids had banged on the windows and had considered closing down businesses - some of which have been there for more than 30 years.
Figures showed 38.8 per cent of reports concerned rowdy and antisocial behaviour and 12.2 per cent were about 'concerns' which included those about people laying on the ground.
Ch Supt Andy Brooke said local businesses had called for action at a meeting in February.
He said it was not a 'significant problem' but hoped to nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand.
"This is not a curfew. Young people who are walking through town and are not doing anything antisocial will not be approached. But we were asked to implement this while more long term solutions can be found."
He said these included not just prosecuting people, but educating them and their parents and working with schools and organisations such as Addaction to help people understand the dangers of legal highs.
"A lot of people think because they are called legal highs they are fine, but they are dangerous. We don't want any more deaths."
He said a similar operation last year had found children as young as ten out on the streets after telling their parents they were at a friend's house.