Enforcement officers take to the streets to enforce Southend town centre PSPO

An order aimed at tackling anti-social behaviour on Southend High Street has come into force in Southend putting anyone urinating, spitting, taking drugs at risk of being fined – but the same penalties could also be levelled at the homeless.

Southend Council has confirmed that the community safety team has begun enforcing the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), giving them to power to hand out fines of up to £100 to anyone found to violating rules.

Those rules include not taking drugs, spitting, urinating or littering, as well as collecting for charity or subscriptions without council authorisation.

The enforcement zone includes central Southend and the seafront between Thorpe Bay and Westcliff, as well as Southchurch Hall Gardens, Hamlet Court Road and York Road.

Controversially, it also includes a ban on begging, sleeping in a public space considered “detrimental” to the public and putting up tents.

This aspect of the order prompted human rights group Libery to write to the council to urge them to abandon the plan. In the letter, the group’s solicitor Rosie Brighouse said the language was “excessively broad” and “unreasonable”.

Councillor Martin Terry, who oversees public protection, has called it an “extra enforcement tool to tackle anti-social behaviour” and Simon Ford, head of community safety at the council, has promised it will not criminalise the homeless as the council’s top priority is always to provide support.

Cllr Terry said: “Central government cuts to police have had an impact on the borough and meant that we have had to introduce measures to tackle the growing unease people felt within the High Street area, for example.

“The PSPO is an additional means with which to tackle persistent anti-social behaviour, such as drinking alcohol and aggressive begging, in some of the busiest areas of our town.

“Following the consultation period, where a significant majority of residents and businesses were in support, officers have worked hard to make sure all appropriate processes and training has taken place so the order can be used to full effect.

“Let’s be clear – the PSPO will not be used to target vulnerable people, such as homeless or rough sleepers, who are in genuine in need of help and support from our partner services.

“It is to tackle repeat offenders whose persistent anti-social behaviour impacts negatively on other people who are visiting or living in our town.

“It is about the behaviour and although the PSPO is not going to solve all the challenges we face, it is another tool we can use as one of the last measures taken after all other attempts of assistance by the council have been exhausted.”

The payment process will see offenders handed a fixed penalty notice and asked to produce identification so their details can be recorded.

If they are unable to produce ID, the community safety team will be given support by the police who will be able to verify the person’s identity.

They will then have 14 days to comply or lodge an appeal. If they fail to pay they could be taken to court and face a fine of up to £1,000.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter