Rough sleeping ban scrapped in Chester

Public backlash leads council to abandon plans to clamp down on rough sleeping and begging

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A council has scrapped its plans to ban rough sleeping and begging following significant public opposition.

Cheshire West and Chester Council wanted to give police additional powers to clamp down on homeless people, as well as on bird feeding and busking, under a controversial Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) for Chester.

A public consultation last summer garnered one of the largest response rates ever recorded by the council – 1,800 – and found no overall support for the measures, but residents were in favour of clamping down on the use of legal highs, drinking alcohol and urination and defecation.

The ban will cover the city centre and parts of Newtown and Boughton for a minimum of three years and replace the existing Designated Public Places Order (DPPO) in place across the city centre, which expires in 2017.

Nicole Meardon, the council’s cabinet member for children and families, said: “As a council that listens to our residents, we greatly value this feedback and I am pleased that the final proposals reflect the views expressed.”

Under the PSPO police will have the power to issue on-the-spot fixed penalty notices carrying a fine of £100 for those using legal highs, urinating or defecating. It will be considered an offence to fail to comply with a request to surrender alcohol, with prosecution fines of up to £1,000.

The council said it has been gathering “detailed evidence of the detrimental impact on the community of the behaviours proposed for inclusion”. It claims the issues affect the quality of life of residents, businesses and visitors.

The council’s cabinet agreed to scrap four of the seven elements of the PSPO at a meeting on 16 March and the implemented measures will be under review over the next 12 months to enable the order to be amended if appropriate.

Meardon said: “We are committed to driving up living standards so our residents have clean, safe and sustainable neighbourhoods.”

Despite wide opposition to regulating rough sleeping and begging she added: “The PSPO proposals were developed in response to specific community concerns about anti-social behaviour.”

The power to impose PSPOs was introduced in 2014, allowing councils to criminalise non-criminal activities, and have been widely criticised as infringements on citizens’ freedoms. They are frequently used against the homeless and to limit freedom of speech or the right to protest. Human rights organisation Liberty says they can restrict rights protected under the Human Rights Act, adding: “PSPOs simply fast-track vulnerable people into the criminal justice system – rather than divert them away from it.

“Local authorities should focus on finding ways to help the most vulnerable – not criminalise them and slap them with fines they can’t possibly pay.”

Despite being excluded from the PSPO the council is considering a revised reporting and enforcement process for “inconsiderate busking” after three quarters of respondents to the consultation called for a new code of practice for street entertainers.

Photo: Peter Vardy

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