Public Space Protection Orders passed by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

Organiser Ingrid Pope [pictured] launched Tunbridge Wells Yard Sale last year after seeing a similar event in the US.

Authorities are to be given powers to enforce Public Space Protection Orders in Tunbridge Wells, after a long and contested process.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council voted overwhelmingly in a meeting on Wednesday [April 25] to grant the green light to the scheme.

As a last resort, the measures will give council and police officers the ‘teeth’ to crack down a range of antisocial behaviour issues.

This relates to: Dog fouling, dog control, use of new psychoactive substances, public drinking, playing of amplified music and, controversially, begging and rough sleeping.

Officers will have powers to give a fixed penalty notice, to a maximum value of £100, for those seen to not comply with an order.

When the idea was publicised in October, it was greeted with outrage in some quarters with a fear that society’s most vulnerable could be fined.

A petition titled ‘Tell Tunbridge Wells Borough Council No to Fines on Begging’ had, at the last count, gathered 6,286 signatures.

But public opinion changed over the course of the council’s consultation with the authority seeking to clarify the plan was to stop ‘professional begging’.

A spokesman said: ‘The order is not a way to target homeless people. Staff will be fully trained and will have discretion about how they enforce this condition.

‘The idea behind this is to encourage genuinely homeless people to engage with agencies who can provide help and assistance.’

Cllr David Jukes, Leader of the council’s ruling Conservative group, referenced the results of their consultation in Wednesday’s meeting.

These stated 64 per cent of respondents were in favour of a need to ‘address antisocial behaviour associated with rough sleepers’ and 66 per cent were ‘in favour of plans to address antisocial behaviour related to begging’.

Cllr Jukes told the chamber: ‘We are here to represent the people and if we don’t, we get it wrong again.’

Cllr Peter Lidstone, proposed an amendment to remove prohibitions to begging and rough sleeping, which was quashed in a named vote by 33 votes to five.

The Liberal Democrat said: ‘If we vote this through we are giving contract staff the ability to issue fines for homelessness and begging.

‘I do not share a confidence they will deal with nuance over complex issues.’

Fellow Lib Dem Ben Chapelard riled some Tory members by asking: ‘Is this social cleansing through the back door?’

Labour Cllr Graham Munn said: ‘There will be some who are shy and will not come forward.

‘They may have certifiable fear and my concern is that we are putting pressure on them and could lead to them sleeping rough in unsafe places.’

The motion was carried, however, with a large majority of the Conservative members backing the scheme.

Tory member Cllr David Reilly said: ‘It breaks my heart to see people who were fighting for our country out on the streets, but we are talking about the antisocial elements and it needs to be dealt with.’

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