Council’s plan to ban soup runs attacked as ‘cold and callous’

Proposals for a ban on soup runs and rough sleeping in a part of the centre of the capital have sparked a political row.

Labour councillors have attacked the proposal as “cold-hearted and callous”.

Westminster City Council has launched a consultation exercise on the plan for Westminster Cathedral Piazza and the surrounding area.

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It is seeking to pass a by-law that would prohibit soup runs from operating in a designated area including the piazza itself and around Westminster Cathedral.

Coun Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour Group, said: “Nothing illustrates the cold-hearted and callous approach of the Conservatives more than this attempt to criminalise those offering help and support to homeless people in need of a hot meal and a helping hand.

“I thought that this was what the Big Society was supposed to be all about – generous-hearted people giving their time to those less fortunate, at no cost to the public purse. This is a nasty and mean move from a nasty and mean Conservative Party.”

A spokesman for the council said the measure was being taken “in a particular area which suffers disproportionately from the negative impact of soup runs”.

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He added: “Westminster believes that food handouts only serve to keep people on the streets longer, damaging their health and life chances.

“For many years, the piazza and surrounding area has been the destination for soup run organisations, a number of which travel into the city from across the capital and even outside of London.

“Up to 100 people at a time can congregate on or around the piazza while food is being given out, turning it into a no-go area for many residents and businesses with issues around litter, urination, violence and disorder.

“The council is now launching a consultation with residents, businesses, day centres and hostels and the voluntary sector on its proposals to ban soup runs and rough sleepers in this location.

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“Depending on the results, it will then seek provisional permission from the Department for Communities and Local Government to pass a by-law before taking it to the full council in the summer.

“If approved, the by-law could be in place by October. Vulnerable individuals will not be enforced against, and all individuals will be asked to leave the area before being subjected to any enforcement.”

Daniel Astaire, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for society, families and adult services, said: “Soup runs have no place in the 21st century and it is wrong and undignified that people are being fed on the streets.”