Residents have backed plans for tough new powers to crack down on antisocial behaviour in Doncaster town centre by four to one.
The results of a major consultation over proposed measures to strengthen police powers to stop yobs who have caused concerns among residents and businesses have revealed the level of support, but also raised concerns of a possible legal challenge.
The statistics have been published this week ahead of a decision on the proposed Public Space Protection Order, which will give police powers to arrest those breaking 10 rules ranging from aggressive begging to public drinking.
Over the consultation period a total of 1,216 responses were recorded in an electronic online survey. Of these, 137 responses were received in paper and electronic copy form and were input into the survey.
The percentage wanting each of 10 listed actions banned was:
*Begging on the street: 79.6
*Loitering around cash machines: 89.25
*Returning to the town centre within 24 hours of being asked to leave by police for antisocial behaviour: 84.41
*Congregating in a group of three or more people and behaving anti-socially: 81.59
*Drinking alcohol in the street:. 85.65
*Taking drugs or possessing drugs paraphernalia: 88.46
*Urinating or defecating on the street. 93.30
*Camping or sleeping outside: 74.53
*Trying to sign people up for charity payments without council permission: 88.74
*Trying to interfere with parking equipment, in the town centre: 85.29.
The council says it plans to use the rules in conjunction with helping people with complex lives to overcome the problems which lead to them being on the streets.
Some residents told the survey that they had not felt safe in the town centre, while others raised concerns for people on the streets because they are homeless or have drug problems.
Others suggested more public toilets were needed to stop people urinating in the street.
One stated: "I am Doncaster born and bred and it would be great to see the town busy and vibrant once again without feeling intimidated or threatened by some individuals. I realise this is an issue faced by most towns and cities but feel the proposal goes some way to start to make things better.”
But another warned: “Until there are adequate facilities in the town centre for homeless people to take refuge, all this will achieve is to push the homeless into the suburbs and villages across Doncaster. This does not solve the problem, it only moves it away from town centre, which is the only place that homeless can raise enough donations to survive. It is also the only place with adequate night-time shelter for homeless people in doorways, etc. These do not exist outside of town.”
There were also calls for the limits of the area covered by the proposed new rules to be extended to areas including Town Fields and Lakeside, although the report says this is unlikely. But it may be extended to include train station concourse and platforms, Marshgate and the Chappell Drive Wholesale Market.
There were also representations from groups promoting civil liberties - Liberty and Manifesto Club, and a petition is being promoted by ‘Keep Streets Live’.
Officials warn these responses suggest that the council may receive representation by petition and possible legal challenge to the introduction of a PSPO.
Coun Chris McGuinness, cabinet Member for communities, said: “Homelessness and rough sleeping is an issue that affects many towns and cities across the country. There is not a one size fits all approach to helping and supporting those who find themselves in this position. This can only be resolved by the cooperation of all agencies, local authorities, the Government, charities, volunteer groups and the public. We also know that some of those who are behaving in an anti-social manner in the town centre or begging are not always homeless or rough sleeping.
“We will continue to work with those most vulnerable in our society to help them address any issues they may face, to break the cycle and get the help and support they need to get their lives back on track. However, we will not stand by and let those who are causing anti-social behaviour in the town centre to continue.
“Overwhelmingly what the consultation responses have shown us is that our residents, businesses and visitors value the town centre and want it to be a vibrant and welcoming space. By using all the tools at our disposal and by working together with our partners we can go some way to address many of the underlying problems.”