A CONTROVERSIAL ban on begging in Southampton could be scrapped, the Daily Echo can reveal.

Civic chiefs will discuss plans to lift the order against aggressive begging at a meeting today.

But the move has angered Southampton city centre traders, who say that in just nine months there have been more than 600 reports of aggressive begging.

Firms have expressed outrage over the proposed plans claiming that begging has “increased noticeably” in Southampton since December.

Council chiefs defended the move, saying that the plan has “outlived its usefulness”.

The current Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) means that police can use dispersal powers to remove individuals that can be deemed as anti-social including drinking on the street and aggressive begging.

The new proposals detail plans to continue PSPO controls on street drinking but remove controls on begging from the order - despite a consultation in which 71 per cent of respondents “strongly disagreed” with the idea.

Cllr Dave Shields, cabinet member for community wellbeing, pictured inset, said that the current PSPO has “outlived its initial usefulness” in tackling aggressive begging and explained how the council would use other tools which have been more effective and make better use of “increasingly scarce” police and council resources.

He added: “I am keen to use the refreshed PSPO to provide a greater focus on the problem of antisocial on-street drinking in our district centres as well as the city centre which is of growing concern to residents.

“Despite a relatively high proportion of consultation respondents registering objection to discontinuing the PSPO element dealing with begging this is not necessarily representative of the views of city population as a whole – younger people in particular tell me that they feel very strongly that we should not be demonising homeless people.”

In a letter to the council, organisation GO! Southampton objected to the changes, claiming that the “presence of street beggars has increased noticeably since Christmas”.

They said: “We were very concerned to see that the council is proposing to remove begging from the PSPO when it is renewed.

“We would ask you – as a matter of urgency – to review this decision and to retain begging as part of the PSPO.

“Over the last 12 months, 60 per cent of our businesses have reported that anti-social behaviour issues associated with begging have impacted their business in some way.

“662 incidents of aggressive begging has been reported by our rangers since July 2018, with the majority of incidents occurring from London Road, along the QE2 mile to High Street.

“PSPO is one of the few tools we have to combat the proliferation of beggars in the city centre and without this we believe the numbers of professional beggars will increase.”

The current PSPO was introduced in March 2016 to five areas of the city.

The plans were met with criticism, with some saying the council chiefs were “inappropriate” to tackling complex social issues.

The chief executive of the Society of St James, Trevor Pickup, had voiced concerns, saying: “Threatening people with legal action is not an appropriate response to dealing with complex social issues”.

Conservative opposition leader Jeremy Moulton also supported the move, and said: “It causes concerns around safety and is not good for the image of the city where people are trying to run businesses.”

Of the 827 people who responded to consultation on the plans, 73 per cent said they supported the move while 23 per cent opposed it.

The PSPOs was in force in the city centre, Portswood Broadway, Shirley High Street, Woolston High Street and Bitterne Precinct, and meant those caught could see fines of up to £100 issued and arrests made.