ONE of the city’s most talked about issues was debated during a £25-per-head secret summit – in which both the public and press were excluded.

Even social media posts were banned during the two day meeting, to discuss ways to tackle the city’s growing homeless problem.

But organisers have defended the blanket ban as necessary and insisted it gave speakers the chance to “talk freely about sensitive issues”.

It comes after more than 70 representatives from 30 organisations attended the two-day homelessness summit, held at the Central Baptist Church, Polygon.

Participants included leading police officers, civic chiefs and business bosses, who were charged £25 to cover costs.

The group debated the city’s growing numbers of homeless people and beggars.

According to figures from a previous count, in November last year, the city’s streets had 25 rough sleepers in one night – said to be a rise on the last count in 2015.

Council staff also spoke to 43 beggars, including from the rough sleeper group, as part of a survey.

Another 20 "suspected beggars" refused to take part.

Civic chiefs say the combined figure of 63 is an increase compared to 2015.

Figures from charity, Shelter, also released in November last year, show a four per cent increase in homelessness across the country.

The increase has sparked fears among some Southampton residents, who recently named beggars as the city’s number one problem.

That’s according to a community safety survey, published by the council last year, in which a third of respondents named it as their biggest concern.

Rough sleepers were named a narrow second.

But leading figures from the weekend’s meeting, hosted by church-collective Love Southampton, say they are preparing plans to tackle the issue.

Lead-organiser, Paul Woodman, a church minister, said the group will draft a ‘homeless charter’, containing the city’s policies on improving homelessness.

He hopes the document, similar to one already in place in Bournemouth, will be backed by the city’s big players.

The group also plan to create a new website, which could be launched next month.

The website will contain details about how to assist those who have fallen into homelessness, as well as a donation page to help fund city-wide help projects.

Mr Woodman said: “The amount of money given to people in the street is in the millions and isn’t always used in a helpful way.

“If we had even 10 per cent of that we could make a difference.”