1. Government
April 15, 2015

Local authorities have been creating their own rules for public spaces, and some of them seem a little extreme

By Barbara Speed

Did you know that you’re not allowed to beg on a certain road in Poole? And in Grimsby, police can confiscate your alcohol? Oh, and if you’re thinking of going to Blackpool, you’d better find out whether their ban on “inappropriate dress” has come into force yet. 

These rules, known as “Public Space Protection Orders”, or PSPOs, have all been introduced over the past five months, under new legislation passed in October 2014. Local councils can now ban activities they deem harmful in certain public spaces for a period of up to three years. Those who break the rules are usually fined, but can be prosecuted too.

In the past, councils had the option to create by-laws against certain activities, which had to be approved by central government, but these new orders can be put into place by any local government without consultation with any other body. Under the terms of the leglslation, local government must only satisfy itself that the activity is detrimental, goes on in that area, and is likely to continue unless action is taken.

For those who hate Blackpool’s infestation of hen and stag dos, these rules may seem welcome and necessary. They offer councils the power to target specific problems where they’re identified, quickly and without the usual amount of bureaucratic faff. 

But a group known as the “Manifesto Club” are campaigning against the orders, which director Josie Appleton says are “too broad” and allow councils to ban “pretty much anything”. As she told local government news site LocalGov:

The result [of PSPOs] is a patchwork of criminal law where something is illegal in one town but not in the next, or in one street but not the next. These orders will turn town and city centres into no-go zones for homeless people, buskers, old ladies feeding pigeons, or anyone else the council views as “messy”.

Think that sounds a little dramatic? Run your eye over a few PSPOs either in place, or touted to be soon:

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  • On a Cambridge road and green, you can’t carry an “open container” of alcohol;
  • In Boston’s “controlled zone”, you can’t drink in public;
  • In one area of Poole, you can’t drink from an open container or beg for money;
  • Kettering wants to regulate skateboarding, charity collectors, begging, “unsupervised juveniles” “loitering” and “obstructing the highway”;
  • Bath wants to ban amplified busking in parts of the city centre;
  • Blackpool wants to restrict “inappropriate dress”, “loitering around cash machines”, “rag mag sellers” and the sale of lucky charms;
  • Cheltenham may restrict begging;
  • Many councils including Portsmouth, Bradford and Southend are considering banning legal highs;
  • Canterbury and Birmingham hope to regulate busking, including confiscating buskers’ instruments;
  • Norwich was considering skateboarding and rollerskating in parts of the city centre, but has shelved plans for now;
  • Oxford is planning to ban a range of “anti-social” behaviours in the city centre, including rough sleeping (65,000 residents have signed a petition against the order at time of writing).

You can see more examples at the Manifesto Club’s website here.

As you can see, some of these certainly fall under the aims of the PSPO legislation, through which police or local government can use tailored orders to cut down on specific crimes such as drinking or violence in certain areas

But others targeted at begging, busking, sleeping rough or wearing “inappropriate” clothes seem part of a Broken Windows approach at best, or a plain intolerant one at worst.

They also call into question the definition of “public spaces”: while some, or even all of these activities might not be to your liking, they’re still mostly activities which are legal elsewhere. And while a lone order may seem reasonable, there’s nothing to stop them accumulating.

Take this map of London, showing the 435 zones where leafleting, protesting, drinking or dogwalking have been banned through PSPOs or other laws (leafleting, for example, can be regulated under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005): 

Click for a larger image. You can play with an interactive version of the map here.

Not so public anymore, eh?

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