Order to stop professional begging in Tunbridge Wells ‘a step closer’

Plans aimed at eliminating professional begging in Tunbridge Wells have moved a step closer.

They are contained as part of the Public Space Protection Order [PSPO] proposal that, on March 21, the borough council’s Communities Cabinet Advisory Board voted to approve and forward to the full Cabinet for consideration at its meeting on April 12.

The decision follows a two-month consultation where a majority of residents supported the idea, which could see – as a last resort – on-the-spot fines of up to £100 imposed to tackle antisocial behaviour relating to begging.

Cllr Lynne Weatherly, Cabinet Member for Communities, voted in favour of the plan and told the committee: “We don’t want someone to be heavily penalised, but we have had people come into Tunbridge Wells to beg and then go back to another town to pay for a bed and breakfast.”

PSPOs would also give the council and police powers to hand out fines to tackle dog fouling, street drinking, the playing of amplified music and the use of new psychoactive substances, also known as legal highs.

Terry Hughes, the council’s Community Safety Manager, outlined the proposal to the committee. He said PSPOs followed ‘significant issues’ and a need for more powers to enforce control.

The orders would last for three years and can be rescinded and varied.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Peter Lidstone told him: “I appreciate you have thought long and hard about this, but I have concerns. I would question the logic behind applying a fine to someone who is homeless.”

He also shared his worry about the potential for ‘third parties’ to carry out these inspections, rather than council officers who have a relationship with individuals.

Mr Hughes said: “I recognise these concerns. It really is a last resort for us. We want to encourage the homeless to engage with services.”

Cllr Lidstone and Labour Cllr Dianne Hill both voted in opposition, but the seven Conservative members voted in favour.

When first announced, the PSPO idea proved controversial, with 6,000 people signing a petition called ‘Tell Tunbridge Wells Borough Council No to Fines on Begging’.

Childrensalon, the town business behind the petition, later halted the petition after meeting with the borough council.

The council said in 2017 there would have been less than five occasions when an individual could have been moved by exercising an order.

PSPOs could be approved by the Cabinet on April 12, and are set to go before Full Council on April 25

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