New powers have been adopted to tackle rough sleeping in Bognor Regis town centre.
Arun District Council’s cabinet members have agreed to enable three senior officers to authorise the clearing away of belongings left on the public highway by those who are homeless.
The move follows the council’s decision to begin to move the items from its property and private areas where the landowners are willing for it to act.
Cllr Trevor Bence, Arun’s cabinet member for residential services, told Aldwick Parish Council during his regular comments as an Aldwick East ward councillor, in advance of the decision being made, 11 sites had been found in High Street alone which had been used for rough sleeping recently.
“We have got a formal letter of understanding from West Sussex County Council. Some of the rough sleepers are on byways and footpaths owned by the county council. This letter gives us the formal authority to act on behalf of the county council in those circumstances to treat the bedding and other items of the sleepers as found property. This is not appropriation.
“If we find sleeping equipment and tents and items which have been abandoned we can treat it as found property.
“It will be retained under the found property law for 28 days.”
The county council is the highways authority and has given Arun the power to act until March 31 next year.
It uses section 41 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, which covers lost and uncollected property, on public areas of the London Road precinct, High Street and Bedford Street.
Cllr Bence later told the special cabinet meeting of Arun last Thursday which adopted the power: “This is just one small part of a bigger jigsaw of a whole raft of other things we have to make sure we are engaging with other groups, such as charities, to ensure we come together about how we are going to deal with rough sleepers.
“One of the biggest problems was the ownership of the property people were bedding down on. But, obviously, in the High Street it is a county council issue.”
Cllr Gillian Brown, Arun’s leader, said: “This has been a serious issue in Bognor Regis for some time. It does need to be dealt with.”
Outside the meeting, Arun community manager Georgina Bouette said the individuals were warned that belongings left in public would be removed.
“We put a notice on their site 24 hours before we intended to act,” she said. “A lot of the stuff we remove is clearly in a state of disrepair, either sodden or it has been damaged or it constitutes a hazard to other people. That is disposed of.”
She stressed the council had informed charities who worked with homeless people of its actions. Its outreach worker visited rough sleepers twice a week and had a good relationship with them, she added.