Calls to expand anti-social behaviour crackdown beyond town centre

Date published: 05 December 2018

An area forum chairman has raised the prospect of extending special powers for clamping down on town centre anti-social behaviour to the outskirts.

A Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) – which bans activities such as begging, on-street drinking and unlicensed charity collections – was introduced to Rochdale town centre in July.

Under its terms, offenders can be hit with on-the-spot fines by police, PCSOs and council enforcement officers.

But it’s not just the town centre that suffers from anti-social behaviour.

Beggars are a particular problem in Milkstone and Deeplish, where police say most are not homeless, but preying on people’s generosity.

And Shahid Mohammed Sardar raised the prospect of expanding the zone, after residents questioned police about the problem at Milkstone and Deeplish Area Forum meeting.

Mark Reynolds, public realm officer for Rochdale Council, said it could be done, but doing so would not be not be without its drawbacks.

“It depends how big a PSPO do you want,” he told the meeting.

“It’s predominantly to address street-drinking, begging and anti-social behaviour in the town centre, which incorporates the Rochdale station and includes visitors to the town.

“You can extend it to Tweedale Street, go further and further and further. But the problem then is it doesn’t become as intense and your resources are dispersed even further, and it doesn’t become a PSPO that’s specific to an area.”

The PSPO also prohibits anti-social driving and skateboarding in certain areas.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after the meeting, ward councillor Sameena Zaheer said she would like to see the PSPO extended – but funding was a major stumbling block.

“We are already working on it, but the major issue is the funding, the amount of cuts we have at Rochdale Council, we are almost cut to the bone,” she said.

“Anything which would benefit of business, of course I would support it, but we also know the reason we can’t implement it is because of the funding.”

She added that she hoped money would be available in future to extend the PSPO to Milkstone and Deeplish.

PSPOs have been criticised by opponents for criminalising vulnerable people and infringing on people’s freedoms.

And Councillor Daniel Meredith, who has overseen the implementation of the PSPO in Rochdale, says he would like to see the PSPO piloted in other areas of the borough – but only once it is working ‘correctly’ in the town centre.

He said: “We want to iron out all the teething problems and try to work with charities to make sure we support vulnerable people in the town centre first and get it correct and in line with ethics.

“In future, I would like to see it trialled in other areas. Milkstone and Deeplish has a problem being right next to the town centre.

“People are going from the town centre itself to where the curry houses are; there has been a problem with people approaching cars.”

He added that the area could potentially pilot an extension of the PSPO – and also stressed that PSPOs can be tailored to target known problems – such as speeding cars in Heywood.

Meanwhile, the neighbourhood policing team, reminded residents at the meeting not to give money to beggars.

PCSO Sohail Hussain said: “The majority are not homeless, but problem is the community keeps giving to them.

“They have said that they make a lot of money, that’s why they keep coming back, we need to enforce the fact that begging is a crime, we need to stop giving money to them.”

He added: “ We need to get out of the habit. Once they stop making money, they will stop coming and stop mithering you.”

PC Mohammed Waqas warned that beggars often used money for illegal purposes.

He said: “It’s what they do with the money. At the end of the day, they will be using it to buy drugs and other things.

“We need to get the message out to the community there, that if you want to give, give money to charities that will help homeless people in Rochdale.”

Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter

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