Durham County Council reverses plans to curb ‘aggressive begging’ in the city centre

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Durham County Council have recently abandoned plans to extend the domain of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to include measures which would make ‘aggressive begging’ a punishable offence in the city centre.

This decision comes after the Council opened a public consultation in March 2022 to gauge support for the proposal. Whilst almost 60% of respondents either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that the measures would be an effective way to control aggressive begging, many reportedly felt that it would have a negative effect on homeless peoples’ lives.

Whilst almost 60% of respondents either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that the measures would be an effective way to control aggressive begging, many reportedly felt that it would have a negative effect on homeless peoples’ lives

Similar concerns were raised in a report released by the Council prior to the consultation, proposing the new rules and providing the reasoning behind them. The report describes how aggressive begging – where the nature of the tactics used are considered to be persistent or harassing such as begging adjacent to ATMs or following people – may be contributing to anti-social behaviour.

If left unaddressed, the report says it “will become unmanageable and damage the reputation of the city centre, including loss of trade and attractiveness to new businesses” as well as reducing the quality of living for local residents.

The report also outlines how, based on anecdotal evidence, some who are begging have travelled into Durham city from other ‘authority areas’ and that many “who are regularly visible in prominent locations, and perhaps give the appearance or perception of being homeless” are not and in fact do have fixed accommodation elsewhere.

An article released on the Council’s website also highlights that similar rules designed to curb the issue have already been implemented in other areas of the country including Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Gateshead.

However, the report goes on to acknowledge the controversial nature of the proposal and the need to take public opinion on the issue into account saying it is “seen by some, including many charities, that the introduction of a financial penalty linked to begging would be punishing some of the more vulnerable individuals in our society”.

In response to the results of the consultation, Councillor John Shuttleworth said: “The outcome is that we are not in a position to take this order forward at this time. However, that does not mean that we leave the issue unaddressed.

“The report refers to the positive work that our enforcement team is doing in the city in support of residents already. This will not diminish and as a result of this decision, we will continue to use the existing powers wherever necessary.

“There are strong views on both sides of the issue, as we’ve seen through the consultation, but it’s our role to make the right decision based on the evidence available. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

“There are strong views on both sides of the issue, as we’ve seen through the consultation, but it’s our role to make the right decision based on the evidence available”

Cllr John Shuttleworth

This comes amidst a wider issue of homelessness currently facing the North East, an area which has some of the highest levels of homelessness of any region in the UK. The charity Shelter, which provides support for the homeless, has found that there has been a 29 per cent increase in the region and that County Durham contains an estimated 226 homeless people, including 86 children.

Image: David Bramhall

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