Dozens of local businesses and market traders have backed a call to introduce a city centre order to ban nuisance begging and anti-social behaviour. 

Up to 80 Market Hall and outdoor traders in Durham city centre have urged Durham County Council to enforce a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) due to the “direct and adverse effect” incidents are having on trade in the city. 

A letter signed by the traders on behalf of Durham Markets Company says nuisance begging in the Market Place is disruptive to trade as it discourages the buying public from entering nearby premises. They claim open air drinking, fuelled by drugs, is causing people to shop elsewhere. 

“With footfall in the city centre still fairly low and a long way to go before reaching pre-pandemic figures, businesses in the city don’t need any more obstacles put in the way of visitors coming to Durham, but rather need positive and obvious encouragement,” the statement added.

The local authority previously considered imposing a PSPO to curb people begging in a threatening or intimidating way but agreed to withdraw the plans in February.

A public consultation on the practice, which includes following people or begging near a cash machine or bus stop, provided a mixed response as to whether it is needed.

The Northern Echo: Durham Market HallDurham Market Hall (Image: The Northern Echo)

Nearly 60 per cent of respondents ‘agreed’ or’ strongly agreed’ that a PSPO would be an effective way to control aggressive begging in the city, though many felt that more support should be given to prevent homelessness and dependencies.

But businesses have now renewed their call for the order due to declining incomes and footfall and say they have been backed by the local parish council, police force and the police and crime commissioner.

The traders say the nearby towns and cities of Newcastle, Sunderland and Darlington have all successfully implemented orders, and Durham is an outlier. 

The statement added: “We are increasingly concerned that, without a PSPO in place to tackle nuisance begging, then Durham will, as it is now already starting to, become a focal point for nuisance begging and will escalate further.

“The resulting anti-social behaviour not only puts our staff, traders and members of the public at risk with market staff having to be on constant alert, particularly during weekends and school holidays, but the language and abuse, which is so clearly driven by an excess of drugs and drink, does not make it the pleasurable experience it should be, especially for families, to visit the city centre.”

Stewards have been employed to patrol the area, funded by the traders, but they say stock is often damaged or stolen as a result of anti-social behaviour. 

The traders have called on local authorities to help tackle the issues.

The Durham Markets Company said: “The city centre is becoming renowned for all the wrong reasons and attracting a growing number of such people who, in the main, aren’t homeless but find begging so lucrative. Open air drinking, fuelled by drugs, is also clearly a problem and affects the ambience of the city centre which people are working so hard to enhance. 

“The application of a PSPO might be politically unpalatable to some but, to those with businesses in the city centre, it is just another negative preventing people from coming to the city.”

City of Durham Parish Council Chairman, Cllr Alan Doig has called for urgent action on the issue: “Durham is clearly seen as a lucrative market for begging,” he said.

“It is very upsetting to hear about businesses and visitors being harassed in the street for money, which is essentially fuelling alcohol and drug issues.”

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But Cllr John Shuttleworth, cabinet member for highways, rural communities and community safety, suggested an immediate PSPO is unlikely.

He added: “It is important to be clear that so-called aggressive begging is something that happens in cities across the UK and abroad and it is far less prevalent in Durham than it is elsewhere. Durham is a welcoming and safe city and we are committed to doing everything we can to keep it that way.

“We take reports of aggressive begging and any related anti-social behaviour extremely seriously, with neighbourhood wardens employed in the city who issue fixed penalty notices and community protection warnings to offenders. We are also working on ways to encourage people to give to charity rather than to people begging while continuing to offer various levels of support and assistance to people in need.

“We did consult on creating a public space protection order but views from those responding were mixed as to whether such a measure would be supported or effective. Ultimately, insufficient evidence was forthcoming to enable a PSPO but we will continue to work with partners to assess the nature and scale of begging in the city and take whatever steps we consider necessary.”