A BAN on begging and pitching tents in Southend town centre would give council officials the tools to make it a better place to live, shop and work, a council leader insists.

John Lamb, Tory leader of Southend Council, spoke at a cabinet meeting which approved a new consultation on the ban, which could hit beggars with fines of up to £1,000.

A new public space protection order (PSPO) could eventually be launched, including measures such as banning begging and placing limitations on where homeless people can sleep to a “restricted area” in the town centre.

Anyone found breaching the PSPO could be handed a £100 fixed penalty notice or prosecuted and issued with a fine of up to £1,000.

Mr Lamb told colleagues: “This is a very important piece of work and we can’t pre-judge what will come back in the consultation, it is for residents to tell us. But it is no good having people like our community safety team going around while not having the right tools to do their jobs.

“Some may see this curbing people’s liberties. It is not. It is making sure people act in a way where they respect other people’s liberties.”

Deputy leader James Courtenay said: “PSPOs should not be looked at in isolation.

“There is no point in us having just the order or just having a community safety team or any of the other measures. We have to put everything together and ensure we have a whole suite of options and this is one to look at.”

He added that the council’s new campaign against antisocial behaviour and aggressive begging has already led to a “noticeable drop” in begging and homelessness on High Street and the council is encouraging residents to donate to homeless charities, rather than to people begging.

A concern raised at the cabinet meeting was the potential for displacement which could see people who are involved in activities noted in the order pushed out of the town centre and closer to people’s homes.

The leading civil liberties group Liberty recently branded the council’s proposal as “cruel and counter-productive” and Southend’s homeless charity HARP has said homeless people should be given “long-term professional support”.

The council will now move forward with a six-week consultation.