Homeless people could be hit with fines if they are caught begging as part of a council crackdown on anti-social behaviour on High Street.

A public spaces protection order could ban begging from the centre of Southend as well as other disruptive behaviour such as street drinking.

Deputy leader of Southend Council, Councillor James Courtenay, said it is among several powers that may be used to “clean up the High Street”.

He said: “I want there to be no begging and no drinking on High Street and we are looking to ensure that we have the resources to do that.

“There has to be a better understanding in Southend of people who are genuinely homeless and those who are sleeping rough as a lifestyle choice.

“There are an awful lot of services that are available to people sleeping rough and some of these people do have accommodation they can go to.

“The council has already engaged directly or through commissioned services and charities with individuals and if they are homeless and need help and support then the council will provide it.

“Nobody needs to sleep rough on the streets of Southend.”

Labour councillor Matt Dent said: “Public space protection orders can be a bit draconian and, depending on how they are applied, they have the potential to target the most vulnerable people,” he said.

“I certainly agree that it could be part of a good approach for tackling things like street drinking and anti-social behaviour but my concern would be having it aimed specifically at rough sleeping.”

Gary Turner, service operations manager at Southend homeless charity HARP, said: “There is no magic solution to the rough sleeping crisis, but long-term professional support is crucial.

“Unfortunately the reality is that there is not enough supported accommodation in Southend to house everyone, even if they were ready to engage.

“HARP have ambitious plans to increase availability of our own emergency rooms and longer-term supported housing to meet this growing need.”