Vicar raps ‘flawed’ centre begging ban
begging could be warned, moved on or hit with an on-the-spot fine under the ban which was CONTROVERSIAL approved last month as begging ban, set to part of a controversial be introduced in crackdown on anti-social Rochdale, is based on an behaviour in Rochdale ‘urban myth’ the town’s town centre. vicar has said. Street drinking, skateboarding, The Rev Mark Coleman unauthorised has described the policy charity collectors - known as ‘flawed’ and called as ‘chuggers’ - playing on council chiefs loud music, loudly revving to change it car engines, ‘anti-social before it parking’ and loitering are comes into also set to be outlawed force under the Public Space sometime Protection Order. Council in the chiefs insist research near shows most of the people future. begging in the town centre Anyone are ‘not homeless’, but acknowledged it is a ‘sensitive caught issue’.
ABut Mr Coleman said the vast majority of people who beg ‘are poor and leading precarious lives’ and fears in the most extreme cases could ultimately lead to those unable to pay their fines put behind bars.
He added: “Whilst I am grateful to all who are working to regenerate and smarten the town centre, I believe this policy is flawed.
“The thinking behind this order seems to be that begging may not be genuine and may be ‘aggressive’ and is therefore to be classed as ‘anti-social behaviour’.
“Of course there may be beggars who are secretly wealthy - I have not met any yet - but we cannot base our laws on urban myths. It is a fact that most people who beg are poor and leading precarious lives.
“Will we have the right to consider ourselves a civilised society if we send to jail someone who is genuinely poor and guilty only of begging for food?
“Sadly this order makes this more possible and I think the time has come to make changes to it.”
Mark Widdup, director of neighbourhoods at Rochdale council, said: “We work with a number of homelessness charities and Greater Manchester Police in Rochdale town centre and the evidence we have is that the majority of beggars in Rochdale have accommodation or have been offered support and refused it.
“We are aware that this is a sensitive issue for our residents and people are understandably concerned about the plight of people on the streets.
“We already do a lot of work with homelessness charities across the borough and this will be stepped up further once the PSPO is implemented.
“Each person who is on the street will be approached by a team of officers from the council, GMP and partner organisations and offered an intensive support and intervention package to help them build a life away from the streets.
“The council is also actively supporting the Big Change campaign, which encourages people to donate money online at bigchangerochdale.co.uk, rather than giving directly to beggars. All money donated is shared between local homelessness charities.
“Our officers are highly trained and decisions on whether to hand out fixed penalty notices will be made on a case by case basis. Their priority at all times, particularly when dealing with more vulnerable members of our community, will be to offer support and advice.”
As the Observer has reported plans for a swearing ban and to bar under-18s from the town centre between 11pm and 6am which were originally part of the PSPO, were dropped last month.
The changes came after complaints the swearing ban would breach human rights. GMP also raised concerns.
●●Rochdale’s vicar the Reverend Mark Coleman has called on council chiefs to change the begging ban