ROUGH sleepers have set up camp in an underground loading bay.

Five tents have been spotted in the area under the Victoria Shopping Centre, in Southend town centre.

It comes just weeks after Southend Council served an eviction notice on rough sleepers living in tents on the picturesque hills off Cliff Gardens - a conservation area between Southend and Westcliff seafront.

John Staples, from Leigh, who spotted the tents in the Victoria Centre deeping, said: “It is a mess down there.

“I saw them on Saturday. I drove down to turn and come out as I was working nearby.

“I couldn’t believe it when I saw all the tents – there must have been about five and piles of rubbish too.

“I think they came from the Cliffs because they are the same igloo looking type of tents.

“It used to be a road down there, where all the buses went through, but its not fully closed off now and there are still steps to access it.

“They are next to the entrance of the loading bay. It must be a fire risk, they are all sitting round and sleeping there, I think they use those mini stoves too.”

He called on Southend Council to find a permanent solution for the rough sleepers.

Mr Staples added: “It is very sad but the trouble is that it isn’t about just moving them on all the time, it is about sorting the whole problem out.”

When our reporter visited the scene yesterday, clothes could be seen hanging on metal railings.

Dennis Baldry, shopping centre manager, said: “We are aware they are down there and it is sad but it is not our issue, it is not part of the shopping centre and is down to the authorities.”

A spokesman for Southend Council said: “The council finds it unacceptable and sad that anyone should be homeless in the 21st century. We therefore continue to tackle rough sleeping by offering support even when this falls outside of our statutory responsibilities.

“We recently undertook a multi-agency High Street patrol including the council, police, and our outreach services, where three rough sleepers in the deeping were visited and were made aware of and encouraged to engage with support available to them. Action plans have been put in place for each individual, which will be closely monitored in the coming weeks.”