Cheshire West and Chester Council has backed away from criminalising rough sleepers and unauthorised buskers as part of a new city centre zone after public outrage was reflected in national publicity and a massive postbag.
The Labour-controlled authority consulted on proposals for the controversial Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in a move aimed at combating anti-social behaviour.
But plans to fine rough sleepers and unauthorised buskers led to one of the biggest ever postbags for a consultation and sparked concerns from civil rights group Liberty and campaigning comedian Mark Thomas who held a protest which attracted TV coverage.
Out of almost 1,800 completed questionnaires and hundreds of comments, there was clear support to deter public urination and defecation, introduce a controlled alcohol zone and prevent the use of legal highs .
Mixed views were received on measures to deter begging and restrict the feeding of birds , with slightly more in favour than against.
But there was little support for the use of a PSPO to deter rough sleeping and to deter unauthorised busking, with the majority of respondents opposing these measures.
However, more than three-quarters (77%) of respondents wanted the council to work on a new code of practice for street entertainers.
The council’s Children and Families Policy and Performance Panel will consider the consultation feedback and the proposed next steps when it meets on Monday (November 23). A report recommends removing the rough sleeping and busking measures from the PSPO proposals and further discussion on other measures.
A decision on whether to implement a PSPO is expected to be taken by cabinet early in 2016.
Cllr Nicole Meardon, cabinet member for children and families, said: “We are a council that listens to our residents. At the launch of this consultation we urged residents, businesses, visitors and everyone else with an interest in Chester to let us know their views - and we have not been disappointed.
“Over the past 12 weeks we have engaged with groups of people who will be impacted by the PSPO proposals and the results clearly show that there is no appetite for fining homeless people or licensing busking and street performance.
“We have responded to this feedback by recommending that these measures are removed from the proposals, and I look forward to continuing discussions about the measures where public opinion is mixed.”
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Roberts, of Cheshire Police , welcomed the feed-back response in terms of volume and detail.
He said: “It gives us a clear sense of what the public want around some of the key measures. We recognise that there are a range of options open to us with partners, which do include enforcement action, but equally it should be acknowledged that Chester has provisions to support vulnerable people in the area.
“The police will support the council as they move forward to in relation to the PSPO and work with them to enforce these measures as deemed fit. Chester is a safe place, and by all working together we can continue to keep the family friendly atmosphere which is appreciated by residents and visitors alike.”
The panel report also details the actions underway to address issues associated with busking and rough sleeping, independent of the PSPO proposals. Councillors and officers are already working with businesses and busking representatives to develop a new code of practice for street entertainers.
On the issue of rough sleeping, emergency safe seat provision is being improved and expanded in both Chester city centre and in Northwich, while the use of the Outreach bus to provide emergency overnight sleeping facilities is to be expanded. The administration has commissioned an independent review of the homelessness contract to assess its performance and identify any remedial measures that may be necessary.
Meanwhile, an awareness campaign urging people who wish to support homeless people in Chester to donate to local organisations, rather than give cash to street beggars, will be launched later this month. Further details of the ‘Your Kindness Can Kill’ campaign will follow soon.