GREEN Party city councillors in Oxford claim council staff have been 'heavy-handed' after rough sleepers were issued with notices threatening court action.

The council's Green group spoke out after a homeless man called Neo was served with a community protection notice after sleeping rough in Cornmarket Street on Tuesday.

Green group leader David Thomas said busker Neo, 44, and a number of other rough sleepers were issued with the community protection notices and called for the council to reopen Lucy Faithfull House, which closed last year after an Oxfordshire County Council grant was withdrawn.

According to Mr Thomas, council staff served the notices to rough sleepers threatening them with possible court action, with notices attached to piles of belongings including sleeping bags.

Neo said: "It is my choice to sleep on the streets but I don't think the council is being helpful by issuing these notices.

"They took my bag from outside Leon and I had to pick it up from a storage area - the council should reopen Lucy Faithfull House."

Mr Thomas said: "There's a perfectly good homeless hostel in the city centre that the council has not reopened.

"Threatening rough sleepers with a criminal record for having nowhere else to sleep is heavy-handed and a new low.

"We need to help people on the streets, not harass them – these notices are being used as a dispersal technique."

Labour city councillor Tom Hayes said: "City council officers do a lot of good work engaging with rough sleepers – we shoudn't forget that."

Earlier this year more than 1,800 people signed a petition calling for Oxford City Council to reopen Speedwell Street’s Lucy Faithfull House, which provided shelter to those with complex needs or substance misuse issues.

It shut last January after the county council withdrew its annual £500,000 funding.

The community protection notice, issued under the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, asks rough sleepers to cease causing an obstruction that could constitute a hazard, and to cease leaving their belongings unattended on any land that is not rightly theirs.

They are warned that failure to comply within a specific time period will mean they have committed an offence and may be prosecuted.

City council spokesman Chofamba Sithole said: "The council took action to remove unattended or abandoned bags in Cornmarket that were blocking fire exits and causing an obstruction and hazard to workmen and pedestrians.

"Notices were placed on all items giving their owners two days to remove their belongings.

"On Thursday morning abandoned bags were removed by the council.

"We are sure that people will understand that blocking fire exits causes a risk to life that absolutely has to be dealt with, and by giving two days’ notice we have been sensitive rather than heavy-handed."

In November last year busker Neo, 44, claimed the number of people sleeping rough in Oxford was far higher than the official figure of 39.

He said he had counted 102 people sleeping rough on the streets in and around the city centre.

His comments came after it was announced that Simon House and Julian Housing beds would be scrapped as part of a £1.5m funding cut by the county council over the next three years after the Government reduced support.

It was agreed last year that homelessness services will receive £2.94m until 2019 after the county council, district councils and the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group provided funding, meaning 154 out of 286 beds across Oxfordshire were under threat.