Support for Stockton and Norton PSPO banning 'aggressive' begging and alcohol-fuelled disorder

Stockton Council wants to introduce a public space protection order (PSPO) in Norton. Credit: Stockton Council

There is "overwhelming" support for a public space protection order (PSPO) aimed at reducing aggressive begging and alcohol-fuelled disorder, a council has said.

The PSPO for Stockton and Norton town centres could be introduced by March.

The orders were drawn up to tackle alcohol-fuelled disorder and aggressive begging in the two town centres, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

It will ban begging in a threatening, intimidating or aggressive way, "approaching or following a member of the public" or begging near a cash machine or bus stop.

Officers will also be able to ask people drinking and causing nuisance or disorder “to cease drinking alcohol or surrender any sealed or unsealed containers”. People could be given fixed penalty notices for breaching the order.

The council said it would not be "too heavy-handed" with fixed penalty notices.

Marc Stephenson, Stockton Council’s community safety assistant director, said the PSPO was a last resort meant for aggressive beggars who target vulnerable people at ATMs, bus stops and repeatedly harass people for coins, not "those who are in a chaotic moment in their lives, those who sit in doorways and don’t bother anybody".

He said: "We are looking at controlling the aggressive begging, not begging. It’s not a ban on begging, it’s not an attack on homelessness.

"We are not proposing an outright ban on drinking within town centres. This is not a measure to attack the majority of people drinking in reasonable consumption rates," he told a Safer Stockton Partnership meeting.

"Where the two tests are met, people are within the designated area and are causing problems for law-abiding members of the public, then the power will activate for authorised officers.

"The data tells us that our biggest challenges exist around Stockton town centre and Norton only. That’s where we are considering the implementation of the PSPO."

He said consultation had drawn the partnership’s biggest ever response, more than 1,600 responses from members of the public. Majorities in Stockton and Norton said they were affected and influenced by aggressive begging and drink-related disorder in the towns.

Mr Stephenson said 91% of people who responded in Stockton and 84% in Norton said a PSPO would help them feel safe: “So quite a staggering number really and quite clear in terms of the public’s view on that. There was quite a resounding response from the public.”

Chair Councillor Steve Nelson said: “That public consultation was absolutely overwhelming. Our residents have spoken and we have responded.

“This is not a blanket ban of alcohol in those two town centres. As a ward councillor in Norton we had a picnic on the green at our jubilee celebrations and couples were bringing a bottle of Prosecco to share in the sunshine.

“It would be completely unfair to punish the vast majority of responsible citizens just for the actions of a very very small minority. I think focusing on two key concerns is exactly the right approach.”

Cllr Norma Stephenson, cabinet member for community safety, said: "Particularly in Stockton with the changes and the investment that the council are putting into the town, it’s coming at a good time. I think we need to be right on top of it from day one. It also affects the traders.”

Sharon Cooney, the council’s head of community safety, said people would be instructed to surrender alcohol and leave the area, "escalating to fixed penalty and obviously prosecution", but help and interventions would be offered. “We’re not going in too heavy-handed,” she added.

Mr Stephenson said a £100 penalty was recommended, with non-payments going to court: “We do need a means to act and for the public to see that we have powers to act. Let’s not forget courts can impose positive obligations on people as well… that stop people falling into a pattern of behaviour and break that chain.

“We won’t just go out issuing fixed penalty notices left, right and centre. Our performance won’t be predicated on how many fines we get out. It will be based on the public’s confidence in coming back into those areas.”

He said the PSPO will go to cabinet and court next month. “All being well, we are looking for implementation around March 1.”

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