Southend’s plan to tackle aggressive begging and rough sleepers on the High Street is expected to come into force before Christmas.
The council’s Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) that promises to bring fines of £100 against rough sleepers and ‘aggressive’ beggars in the heart of Southend has taken almost five months to be implemented but the council now says it will be in operation before Christmas.
Councillors agreed to introduce the restrictions in July and stressed that while it would not solve all the borough’s problems, it would help to tackle anti-social behaviour.
This includes banning begging within the ‘restricted zone’, as well as stopping people sleeping in a public place “in a manner which has a detrimental impact on the quality of life of others”.
It will be in force across the town centre, seafront, Southchurch Hall Gardens, Hamlet Court Road and York Road.
Councillor Martin Terry, who is responsible for public protection, admitted that the order had been slow to implement but said he expects it to be enforced “before Christmas”.
He said: “It is all there, but it has taken a while to get all the staff trained and organised. It is hitting the ground now.
“It has been quite slow but the officers need to have the right skill set and be properly trained.”
Carl Robinson, director of public protection, said: “Whilst the PSPO is legally in operation, we are continuing to get all of our legal processes fully in place and finish the training sessions for the staff who will need to enforce the PSPO where appropriate.
“However, it is a complex process and it is important that we get it right. We hope to have the PSPO operational in the next few weeks. As we have explained before, the PSPO is not going to solve all the challenges we face, but it is an extra enforcement tool to tackle anti-social behaviour.”
When the PSPO comes into force the council’s Community Safety Team will be able to hand out fines of £100 and these could go up to as much as £1,000 if it goes to court.
The majority of councillors have supported it, seeing it as a positive step to preventing the growing problem of anti-social behaviour but it has come under fire from rights groups who believe it will criminalise the homeless. Some residents have also questioned how people who are homeless would be expected to pay financial penalties.
Josie Appleton, director of the freedom group, the Manifesto Club, said in August that the order could “severely restrict homeless people’s ability to feed themselves and survive outside in cold weather”.
Human rights group Liberty also raised objections during the council’s public consultation, writing in a six-page letter that it would be “unlawful and unreasonable”.