PSPO Watch: July 2016

Posted by Rosie Brighouse on 01 August 2016

We’ve warned about them. We’ve challenged them. We’ve had some success. But they keep coming. And it seems no one is safe from Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) which continue to chip away at our civil liberties in towns and cities all over the UK.

The power to create these Orders was introduced in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act in 2014. They let local authorities ban any activity that has a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”.

Liberty warned from the outset that the definition in the Act was too vague and broadly drawn – especially considering those who breach a PSPO face on-the-spot fines of up to £100, or a criminal record and a £1000 penalty if they can’t pay.

Absurd criminal acts

Just last week Kettering Borough Council’s new Order came into force.

It targets the town’s most vulnerable (it bans begging), young people (under-18s are now under curfew – and, when they are allowed out, they can’t skateboard), and freedom of speech (it outlaws shouting and swearing).

Kettering’s Order perfectly demonstrates the perverse results of councils abusing this power. It’s highly likely that neither somebody who’s begging nor an 11-year old has £100 in their pocket or a grand in the bank to make up for it. And what officially counts as swearing in the Borough Council’s book? How can people know when they’re at risk of breaking the law? Haven’t we been here before?

So forget hunting Pokémon – you’re probably better off staying indoors.

Park life

Except not everyone can – and councils are continuing to use PSPOs to criminalise rough sleepers.

Last year we warned Gravesham Borough Council against enacting a discriminatory Order which sought to ban rough sleeping and lying down. A slightly amended PSPO came into force at the beginning of July, making criminals of “persons, who are not homeless or a vulnerable adult” if they “lie down or sleep” in Gravesend town centre.

This new caveat seeks to spare the homeless, but in fact raises more questions. It’s not at all clear who will assess whether someone is vulnerable or homeless, or whether any available accommodation is actually suitable for them.

And the Order still requires fines to be dished out to those who “lie down” in Woodlands Park this summer. We pointed out the absurdity of this to the Council back in November, but somehow it’s made the cut.

Cruel and discriminatory

Gravesham may have already passed this Order, but there’s still a chance to persuade other councils to scrap similarly cruel and nonsensical plans.

Rushcliffe Borough Council is currently consulting the public on a PSPO whereby “all persons are prohibited from sleeping in any public place” whether it’s “open to the air; within a vehicle; within a car park; [or] a non-fixed structure including caravans and tents”.

The people of Rushcliffe have until Friday 12 August to respond to the consultation and fight back against an Order that will clearly disproportionately impact the poorest in society – as well as criminalising anyone who pulls over and naps in the car rather than continue to drive while tired.

Still more sinister are Cherwell District Council’s plans, which will outright ban rough sleeping in Banbury. The council is pushing ahead despite Thames Valley Police only receiving six reports of rough sleeping between July 2014 and February 2016. How exactly does that amount to detrimentally affecting locals’ quality of life?

Banbury residents have until Monday 15 August to stand up against these unjustified and disproportionate plans.

Fighting back

Thanks to PSPOs, people all over Britain are suffering a creeping incursion on their civil liberties. And unfortunately councils can't always be trusted to do the right thing even following a consultation.

That's why we must rid ourselves of the power to create these Orders altogether. But until we secure that much-needed change in the law, we need to make as much noise as possible about their impact.

Liberty will continue to take councils to task, while the Manifesto Club has called for a Weekend of Action this coming weekend (6-7 August), carrying out protests country-wide in opposition to the powers. You can join them in their current plans, or let them know about your own, here.

Together we can take a stand to defend our own public spaces and secure change. It will be safe to go outside again.

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Rosie Brighouse

Rosie Brighouse

Liberty
Legal Officer