New powers ‘not targeting rough sleepers’, council claims

Picture: Derek Martin
Picture: Derek Martin
  • Part two of special report on PSPOs
  • Council defends new powers
  • Labour opposes plans

New powers to tackle antisocial behaviour have divided the public.

Yesterday, this newspaper published the first part of a special investigation into Public Spaces Protection Orders, and their implementation locally and nationwide.

Adur and Worthing councils director for communities John Mitchell, who announced his resignation this week after ten years of service SUS-160404-170349001

Adur and Worthing councils director for communities John Mitchell, who announced his resignation this week after ten years of service SUS-160404-170349001

See part two below.

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Street drinkers swearing, fighting and urinating in rubbish bins have plagued the town centre, business figures have claimed.

Worthing Borough Council pursued the use of Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) after countless complaints.

The council confirmed a total of 489 arrests relating to the street community were made in Adur and Worthing between December 2014 and December 2015 – most of them in Worthing.

Sussex Police enacted 21 dispersal orders in the town centre in the same period, as a result of similar antisocial behaviour complaints.

Melanie Peters, who ran Best of Worthing, in Liverpool Terrace, Worthing said: “It was a daily problem. They congregated in the gardens of Liverpool Terrace and as the day went on more joined and the day was filled with swearing, arguing and even fights at times. This made it very difficult to run a business from that area. In the end, I stopped clients coming to the office as it was a poor reflection of the business and some of my clients also said they felt unsafe.”

Worthing town centre manager Sharon Clarke believed the PSPOs would not target the homeless but those who were being ‘aggressive and intimidating’. She said: “Last Sunday, a man was absolutely out of his head outside Topshop and urinated in a rubbish bin in the middle of town.

“It’s not acceptable. We often report them on 101 but not always possible to identify them.”

The council has since defended the decision – which is set to be rubber stamped at full council next week. Director for communities John Mitchell said working closely with various agencies had enabled the council to identify members of the street community – many, the council argues, are not homeless. Mr Mitchell said the orders, enforceable through fixed penalty notices and criminal prosecutions if not obeyed, would act as a deterrent.

“The intention behind the PSPO is that the powers should act as a deterrent to anti-social behaviour, removing the need for a fixed penalty notice to be issued in the first place,” he said.

“If, however, an individual is not deterred from behaving in an antisocial fashion, then the £50 fixed penalty notice will be considered as a last-resort option. Should they be unable to pay, then a summons to court for non-payment would be issued.”

The council is drawing up an enforcement protocol, which will be debated at full council alongside the orders themselves.

Amid criticisms that an order on overnight camping on certain public spaces would target rough sleepers, Mr Mitchell said the intention was to tackle unauthorised camping from seasonal workers and tourists during the summer, which had become problematic.

He added: “This order is not designed to target the rough sleepers. If it were, the orders would relate to the areas where we know genuinely homeless rough sleepers congregate, or would have opted for a blanket order for Worthing.”

Labour’s Jim Deen, meanwhile, who opposes the proposals, questioned the council’s decision.

He said: “PSPOs make it easy for councils to react to problems of antisocial behaviour in a simplistic way by introducing an order which could have a dramatic impact on the freedom of some sections of the community, without the council being forced to explore a range of solutions that might provide a more equitable solution.”

Mr Deen said if the council’s intention was to target ‘aggressive begging’, it was not captured by the wording of the PSPO, which bans ‘all begging’ and those who ‘sit or loiter for an unreasonable time’.

He argued the council should amend the wording accordingly.

Worthing People’s Assembly claims orders prohibiting behaviours such as begging will disproportionately affect the homeless community – intentionally or otherwise.

Spokesman Dan Thompson said: “Homeless people are more likely to be destitute and without resources and are therefore more likely to beg. The part which states ‘sitting or loitering for an unreasonable time’ particularly targets them because they have no other suitable or safe places to go.”

The group gathered more than 5,000 signatures against the orders – 250 people replied to the council’s online consultation.

Mr Deen has called for further, more wide-ranging public consultation.

Authority wary of orders on begging and rough sleeping

Arun District Council will discuss a ban on street drinking in Littlehampton town centre next month.

It follows concerns from residents and businesses over antisocial behaviour – with nearly 15 per cent of police calls in River ward related to street drinking between August, 2014, and July, 2015.

The Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) would, if agreed by councillors, ban the consumption of alcohol in open public areas and enable council offers and police to confiscate open containers of alcohol.

Anyone ‘reasonably believed’ to be likely to cause antisocial behaviour will be moved on.

Additional powers to keep dogs on leads in Ferring were also subject to a consultation, to be discussed by cabinet members on May 31.

The responses to the consultation have not yet been released.

A report, considered earlier in the year, also referenced bans on rough sleeping and begging – but officers warned against including them in any order because of the backlash elsewhere.

Head of neighbourhoods Roger Wood pointed to a key criticism of such PSPOs – that they may double up on existing laws. Worthing People’s Assembly also note this as a concern.

Mr Wood wrote: “Proposed bans on begging elsewhere in the country have been challenged by organisations working with the homeless.

“These challenges are based on the submission that powers to address begging all already available through the Vagrancy Act 1824, that preventing begging interferes with rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights and people begging are some of the most vulnerable in society and need agencies to engage with them to offer a holistic package of support rather than criminalise them.”

Mr Wood’s report also touches on another widespread question – that of enforcement.

With diminishing resources, it appears the onus will be on the councils which implement PSPOs to enforce them.

According to Mr Wood, district commander for Arun and Chichester Justin Burtenshaw advised police would only support initiatives and enforcement of the new powers ‘within their available capacity’.

In Worthing, campaigners have questioned the cost councils will be burdened with.

Inspector Allan Lowe, of the Adur and Worthing neighbourhood policing team, said: “We have had a consistent approach to working with the street community in Worthing for many years and this will not change.

“Alongside other agencies and partners, we provide support for those in need and enforce where needed.

“Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) are introduced by local authorities and primarily enforced by them.

“Sussex Police rarely criminalises someone for begging, using a host of other ways to deal with individuals who do not have a criminal history, from cautions to community resolution but they are only available if there is no previous offending.”

Enforcement will not be an issue in Adur. Contrary to their colleagues in Worthing, senior councillors declined the chance to implement a PSPO to target overnight camping in Buckingham Park, in Shoreham.

Councillors felt there was not enough evidence to warrant a PSPO but would monitor the situation and revisit it if it became a problem at a later date.

A key requirement of a PSPO is that it must be evidence-led.

Deputy leader Angus Dunn said he was concerned existing byelaws were already in place to tackle any issues.

He said: “It is very clear that the issues that these are seeking to deal with in Worthing are very different to those in Adur.

“I certainly don’t perceive overnight camping in Buckingham Park to be a huge issue.

“I am also concerned that we have a perfectly valid byelaw that prohibits camping. The wording is almost identical to this.”