A TOUGH new measure to crack down on persistent antisocial behaviour, begging and alcohol-related nuisance has been approved amid pledges vulnerable people who are affected will be treated compassionately.

Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet agreed the introduction of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) in Darlington town centre was needed as 1,880 incidents were reported police in the PSPO area between June and November.

Members agreed to review the order, which can place restrictions on behaviour and if individuals breach these conditions they could be liable to punishment by a fine of up to £1,000, after six months.

Councillor Helen Crumbie, the council’s community protection portfolio holder, said the PSPO had been proposed after residents stated community safety was their top priority.

She said the PSPO would enable authorised officers to restrict antisocial activities by taking a “proportionate approach which to influence and persuade behaviour change”.

The meeting heard numerous concerns that the order would affect those greatest in need.

Peter Greenwood, chairman of campaign group More In Common Darlington, told members: “The message that the PSPO plan sends out in the name of the council is that people who seek charity from strangers on our streets are untrustworthy and probably con artists. There’s a grave danger this order will legitimise bigotry against homeless people, rather as the Brexit debate legitimised racism to many.”

He said the PSPO went “way beyond the traditional ‘move along now sir’” and would end up with people being jailed because they couldn’t pay a fine imposed for “trying to feed themselves”.

I know it’s too late to stop this going ahead in Darlington”, he said. “But it was essential that someone stood up tonight in defence of civil liberties and humanity.”

Independent councillor Alan Coultas, who has worked in the homeless sector for 25 years, warned the order would need implementing with “great care and sensitivity”.

Conservative group leader Councillor Heather Scott said while “in your face” beggars at cashpoints were distressing people, it was vital those enforcing the order did not target people with problems.

Liberal Democrat councillor Anne Marie Curry added people other than just beggars affected by the order would need to be treated with empathy to prevent driving the issues elsewhere.

Responding to the concerns for beggars, Cllr Crumbie said the order would only target who begged for financial gain, rather than those genuinely in need.

She added: “This council always has and always will look after the vulnerable people.”