The leader of Windsor and Maidenhead council has become embroiled in controversy after publishing an open letter calling on the police to crack down on begging ahead of the royal wedding.
Cllr Simon Dudley, leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, wrote to the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for the Thames Valley requesting he do more to tackle ‘aggressive begging and intimidation’ by homeless people.
The Conservative councillor wrote that there was ‘growing concern amongst residents, businesses and visitors’ about the number of homeless people on the streets of Windsor. The increase in people begging was creating a ‘hostile atmosphere’ that presented ‘a beautiful town in a sadly unfavourable light’, he said.
He emphasised this was particularly a problem given the upcoming royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May.
‘Obviously, the level of tourist interest is set to multiply with the Royal Wedding in May 2018, and there are increased concerns from our residents about their safety,’ Cllr Dudley wrote.
‘As Leader of the Royal Borough this situation is totally unacceptable to me and my fellow councillors.’
The council leader argued that a large number of the people begging in Windsor do it as a ‘voluntary choice’ - a controversial suggestion given the country, and especially London, is currently facing an acute housing crisis.
‘Our work on the SWEP [Severe Weather Emergency Protocol] has provided us with the evidence that a large number of adults that are begging in Windsor are not in fact homeless, and if they are homeless they are choosing to reject all support services to beg on the streets of Windsor,’ he wrote to PCC Anthony Stansfeld.
‘In the case of homelessness amongst this group, it is therefore a voluntary choice.’
Cllr Dudley rejected the idea the council could use a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to address Windsor’s begging problem. New Home Office guidance on the use of PSPOs meant they were ‘not the appropriate option given the circumstances’, he wrote.
He also noted there was not enough time before the royal wedding to implement the powers, which are provided under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and are designed to prevent anti-social behaviour in public.
Instead, he insisted the Thames Valley Police (TVP) enforce current laws on vagrancy (The Vagrancy Act 1824) or implement Criminal Behaviour Orders under powers granted by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
After reminding Mr Stansfield of the threat of terrorism, Cllr Dudley concluded his letter with a plea for extra support from the TVP.
‘I believe that there is a clear case of Windsor needing to be considered separately and more visibly by TVP because of the special context and security profile of the town,’ he wrote.
‘I request that you give immediate attention to the issues facing Windsor, and ensure all necessary financial and human resources necessary to protect our local residents, businesses and visitors.’
After registering his surprise that Cllr Dudley’s letter was issued publicly rather than sent directly to him, Mr Stansfeld responded that these issues — begging and terrorism — had not been raised at his last meeting with Windsor and Maidenhead in October.
The PCC said he would respond to the councillor once he had received the letter.