NEW powers to move on travellers and rough sleepers have been dubbed “ethnic cleansing” by campaigners.

Protesters called on Brighton and Hove City Council to revoke the new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs), which have only been enforced in the city since Saturday.

Labour Councillor Gill Mitchell said the orders would not be used to target specific groups while Conservative group leader Geoffrey Theobald said the powers had overwhelming public support.

Scores of protesters gathered in Bartholomew Square hours ahead of the full council meeting last night and their campaigning could be clearly heard in the council chamber throughout.

Three members of the public raised questions about what support and protection there would be for the homeless and traveller communities with the introduction of the powers.

Seb Royle called the proposals social cleansing, fellow campaigner Bette Davies claimed the powers would target travellers and the homeless and Boudicca Pepper said it breached travellers’ human rights.

Gemma Challenger, of the Friends, Families and Travellers group, presented a petition of more than 5,000 signatures against the orders. She said: “This is ethnic cleansing. This is an attack on the gypsy way of life.

“Unless this is not overturned by the council this will be challenged through the courts at great cost to the council.”

During a heated debate, there were shouts of “scum”, “sick” and comparisons to the Nazis from the public gallery.

There were also expressions of disgust from campaigners when an amendment to have the petition noted and not discussed at the next policy, resources and growth committee was voted through. Protesters caused disruption as they left the meeting and then tried to storm the town hall after security staff eventually locked them out. Sussex Police were also called to attend.

Cllr Mitchell said the new powers would be used as a “problem-solving approach” in conjunction with the authority’s homeless strategies.

She said powers would be used proportionately, would fully comply with human rights legislation and no specific groups of people would be targeted.

She added the powers would strike a balance in addressing the needs of those who wished to enjoy the city’s green spaces and the needs of those whose behaviour was causing “concern and complaints”.

Cllr Theobald said: “As far as I and my residents are concerned, this has nothing to do with specific groups or the homeless, it is to do with people driving up in very expensive motorcars and very expensive caravans and parking on cricket, rugby and football pitches. This council has already provided, at quite considerable cost, a transit site. I don’t think this council could do anything more to try and provide for everyone.”

Green convenor Phelim MacCafferty said existing by-laws would be better suited to tackle antisocial behaviour than “untested” new powers and said it was part of the city’s “raffish charm” to welcome all. He said: “It is not a crime to be homeless, it is a fault of society.”