PSPO Watch: Hometown Zeros

Posted by David Mulcahy on 02 December 2016

The London borough of Enfield boasts beautiful parks, great shopping and good schools. You can be in the countryside in 15 minutes or central London in under 30. It’s one of those places Sky News describes as “leafy”.

It had the world’s first ATM machine and designed the Lee-Enfield rifle. There’s that house in Brimsdown where a demon once possessed the furniture – seriously – and there’s a late-night Krispy Kreme drive-thru.

Yep, Enfield is pretty sweet.

On and off it’s been my home for the majority of my life. I’m proud of that, and hometown pride is a funny thing.

It’s the sort of thing you refuse to let go of even when your hometown stops loving you back. Even when staying there might mean you end up with fewer rights and freedoms than your mates in the borough next-door…

Dangerous powers

Because Enfield Council intends to implement a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) – those clumsy and dangerous tools that have let local authorities ban any activity they reckon has a “detrimental effect” on others’ quality of life.

This power is so vague it can turn pretty much any innocent activity into a crime overnight.

In Hillingdon it’s a criminal act to gather in groups of just two or more unless you’re waiting for a bus or going to or from a parked vehicle.

Salford City and Kettering Borough Councils have banned swearing – while it’s now a crime in both Bassetlaw and Lancaster to do anything annoying. Anyone who breaches a PSPO faces an on-the-spot fine of up to £100 – or a criminal record and a £1,000 penalty if they don't pay.

So you get an idea of how you might find yourself a whole lot less free if your council is the latest to catch the PSPO bug.

Enfield Council has consulted the public on plans to ban 18 separate activities – or has it? Depends how you define “public”. And “consultation”.

I stumbled upon the survey completely by chance. The council is quick enough to tell me and my wife how to pay council tax or park the car, but couldn’t pop something through the letterbox about its new plan to wildly curb our rights on our own streets?

The consultation closed last Monday, so I guess not.

Targeting the vulnerable

The proposals are shameful. My council intends to follow in the footsteps of Shepway, Wrexham, Gravesham and Cherwell in criminalising rough sleepers – because whose circumstances haven’t been improved by incurring ever more debt and a criminal record?

Sleeping rough isn’t antisocial behaviour – and to sweep it conveniently out of sight by claiming it has a detrimental effect on others is either naïve or plain cruel.

“Unauthorised sleeping” apparently leads to “fires, criminal damage and proliferation of abandoned drugs paraphernalia” (so claims the consultation, though the evidence for this assertion is nowhere to be seen).

But they can be dealt with by existing laws. And PSPOs are incapable of addressing the causes of homelessness – they can only slap people with fines – making this plan entirely worthless.

But it’s not just the homeless they’re targeting, oh no. They’re going big.

In a discriminatory, degrading and dangerous move, they’re also going to force wheelchair and mobility scooter users capable of going more than four miles an hour – whether they actually do or not – to compete with traffic on the road rather than use the pavement.

And they’re not done there either. The council is also seeking to criminalise “aggressive” begging and charity collection, and annoying public speaking – see you later, protest rights – among the multitude of would-be criminal acts.

Take a stand

Like so many around the country we’ve been sucker punched.

This is our home. These are our friends and neighbours. And the council weren’t even going to tell us. We thought we were better than this.

Liberty has proved time and again that if we band together, take part in consultations and write to our local papers and councillors making clear we won’t stand for discrimination and a dilution of freedoms, we can defeat PSPOs.

But recent history has shown we can’t afford to stop with Orders in our own backyards. Until the Government completely scraps PSPOs, any local authority will be able to create them.

And they will. As Enfield demonstrates, there aren’t even adequate rules around consulting residents.

So wherever you live, ask yourself what kind of community you want to be a part of. Around my way, ‘We Love Enfield’ posters – originally a show of defiance during the 2011 riots – stick to shop and restaurant windows.

If you love your hometown, it’s time to prove it. Join Liberty in fighting back today.

David Mulcahy Liberty

David Mulcahy

Communications Officer