LEGAL action is being taken against six homeless people still camping illegally on Southend seafront who have refused repeated offers of help from the council.

The campers in Cliff Gardens were issued with a ‘notice to vacate’ last Friday (November 20), giving them 24 hours to leave, but have stayed at the site, forcing the council to pursue a possession order and injunction, which will be heard at Southend County Court today (Friday) at 10am.

If the order is approved, council staff, possibly backed by the police, will visit Cliff Gardens and order the campers to leave immediately.

A council spokesman said the week long delay between the notice to vacate and the possession order reflected the time it took to bring the legal action to court.

The move follows several offers of help over many weeks and repeated pleas from the council to take up assistance and comes as winter night shelters have opened for the next 17 weeks.

Originally, there were 29 campers at the Cliff Gardens, but 23 have since been moved to local houses or to re-engage with their local area.

However, six have remained and their presence has caused concern among homeowners, such as Gavin Chambers, who is looking to sell his Clifftown Parade property because of concerns about rubbish and drunks hanging around on nearby paths.

Council leader Ron Woodley said: “I urged those camping on the cliffs to take up our final offers of assistance back in September and I am pleased to say that many have been successfully helped.

“However, having made several attempts to engage with those remaining, we have now exhausted all of our options and have no choice but to take this action.

“Those remaining are refusing any help or assistance, so for their own welfare and safety we must do this. “It is getting colder, and this is an unsafe cliff slip area that has been and still is subject to land movement and it is not hygienic to be there.”

He acknowledged the council’s decision to take action would divide opinion, but stressed the council had taken a long time to reach this point and had taken as much time as possible to engage, “some would say too long.”

He added: “We have been as compassionate as we can be, but we must now be pragmatic for the good of those remaining, and for the good of the residents of our borough.

“Today the winter night shelters open, and so those remaining on the cliffs have the opportunity for food and shelter for the next 17 weeks.

“I do not want to be taking legal action in this situation and I absolutely have compassion with their plight. However, we have gone well above and beyond what we are obliged to do, making several offers of help and support.

“Instead of facilitating rough sleeping by allowing camping in parks, our policy as a council is to enable people to get into accommodation where a professional support network is available to address their holistic needs.

“We have done just that and it has now been several weeks since many of their arrivals.”