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Tackling anti-social behaviour issues in Durham City

Published March 08, 2022 3.51pm

Measures to extend a ban on the consumption of alcohol in public spaces and tackle anti-social behaviour in Durham City will be discussed by councillors next week.

Following a public consultation, we introduced a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in 2019, prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in a restricted area of the city for three years.

Ahead of a review to extend the order for another three years, we are seeking views on whether to extend the boundary of the order and to introduce another PSPO which would make aggressive begging a punishable offence in the same area, in line with other towns and cities in the region.

Agressive begging

Begging is seen as a persistent and continuing issue in Durham. Information suggests that this is on the increase, with the severity and volume of the problem identified by Durham Constabulary and other partners, and the use of aggressive techniques by persistent beggars highlighted.

There are concerns that the issue is contributing to anti-social behaviour and having a negative impact on the quality of life of those living, working in and visiting the area.

If the trend continues to grow, it is feared that aggressive begging will become unmanageable and not only damage the reputation of the city centre, but also contribute to a loss of trade and lessen the appeal of the city to new businesses.

If the proposal is agreed, Durham would be following three other north east authorities in introducing a PSPO to tackle forms of begging, with Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Gateshead councils having also taken similar action.

Support for homeless

Although beggars may give the impression of being homeless, it is believed the majority of those begging in the city do have fixed accommodation in other parts of the county, with homeless and rough sleeper provision in County Durham considered highly effective and valued.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that beggars in the city are often travelling from neighbouring authority areas and consider Durham a lucrative opportunity.

We have stressed that work to support these vulnerable individuals would continue. While the PSPO aims to tackle aggressive and anti-social begging, a range of other intervention methods including education will be considered alongside the enforcement order.

Public consultation

Cabinet will be asked to agree to at least a six-week public consultation on the proposals before any decisions are made on introducing such an order and extending the boundaries of the current PSPO.

Cllr John Shuttleworth, Cabinet member for rural communities and highways, said: "Durham is a beautiful city and everyone who lives, works, studies in and visits Durham should feel safe and welcomed. Anti-social behaviour, such as drinking alcohol in public spaces and aggressive begging can have a significant impact on those in the city and that's why it is important that we take on board a wide range of views by launching a consultation.

"PSPOs are effective tools in tackling persistent and ongoing matters. By extending the current PSPO and introducing measures to tackle the aggressive, intimidating or threatening behaviours that can sometimes be used whilst begging, would act as a deterrent to those who are considering travelling to the city centre to beg."

Cabinet is recommended to agree to a full consultation on extending the boundaries of the current order and introducing a PSPO which covers begging. Councillors will then receive a further report on the outcome of the consultation later in the year.

The meeting will take place at 9.30am on Wednesday 16 March. The meeting can be viewed online at DCC on YouTube.