STREET drinking in Littlehampton could become illegal as Arun District Council weighs up an alcohol ban in a bid to tackle anti-social behaviour.
Arun is considering whether to introduce a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), which would make it a criminal offence to consume alcohol within a designated public area.
The ban could leave street drinkers facing fines of up to £1,000 if they are caught consuming alcohol or in ‘possession of open containers with alcohol’.
While street drinking is not currently illegal in Littlehampton, it is subject a Designated Public Places Order (DPPO), meaning that police have the power to confiscate alcohol if they believe it is causing, or likely to cause, anti-social behaviour. A PSPO would go further, completely prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in the town centre.
Roger Wood, Arun’s head of neighbourhoods, recommended a PSPO covering Littlehampton’s town centre at a cabinet meeting on Monday.
But Arun decided to revisit the areas covered in the ban before beginning public consultation, after several cabinet members spoke out in favour of extending its scope further than the town centre.
Councillor Trevor Bence, speaking from the public gallery, told cabinet he advocated a ‘much more feasible area, if not blanket coverage’. “It’s very important we get it right,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a tourist who wants to... see groups of men sitting around drinking their extra-strength lager and getting away with it, (but) the seafront is not covered in the (proposed) regulation.”
Cabinet members Ricky Bower and Paul Dendle joined Mr Bence in his call for a more extensive ban, with the riverbank and beach promenade among the suggested additions.
However, Mr Wood pointed out that a ‘larger area would require larger enforcement resources’.
And Nigel Croad, Arun’s deputy chief executive, warned starkly that ‘an alcohol ban means a ban, not just for street drinkers, but for you, me and visitors. No one would be entitled to drink in the area’.
Meanwhile traders such as Simon Vickers from Arun Furnishers in Beach Road welcomed the prospect of a crackdown. Mr Vickers, who is also chairman of the Littlehampton Traders’ Partnership, said: “We realise it’s a difficult situation and that these things take a lot of time to actually come, but the powers are available and hopefully Arun can find a way to use them.
“In the past, going back two or three years, the problem (of street drinking) was very much of an issue in the town centre.
“However, the Traders’ Partnership, the town council and Arun have worked very closely with the police and other authorities, and the problem has become vastly improved over recent years – almost to the extent that it’s not a noticeable part of our town centre now.
“But we know given half the opportunity the problem will arise again, so if the PSPO can be introduced it will hopefully continue the work that’s been started.”
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne told the Gazette she would support Arun if it went ahead with a ban, but emphasised the problem was ‘not going to go away overnight’.
She explained that many street drinkers were homeless and had ‘complex needs’, including substance dependencies and physical and mental health issues.
“It’s not something the police can cure on its own,” she said.
“It requires different agencies working together, and unless you address those issues it’s very difficult to reduce disruptive behaviour.”
Councillor Ian Buckland, while supportive of a ban, raised his concern that it was coinciding with a withdrawal of funding from Stonepillow, a homelessness charity which has been working with businesses and the council to address street drinking from its hub in Littlehampton.