Thomas Bridge 30 March 2015

Councils hit back after new public space laws branded ‘bizarre’

Council leaders have refuted claims that public spaces are being hit by a ‘patchwork’ of ‘bizarre’ new criminal offences introduced by town halls.

Local authorities have been able to launch public space protection orders (PSPOs) and outlaw certain activities since the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act became law last year.

Yet anti-regulation group the Manifesto Club said this had allowed town halls to ‘ban pretty much anything’ and create a ‘patchwork of criminal law’.

Responding to the claims, the Local Government Association (LGA) this afternoon said PSPOs were ‘far from bizarre’ and dealt with ‘serious issues’ relevant to each region.

The eight PSPOs currently in force across England and Wales include a ban on under-21s entering a tower block in Oxford unless they are a visitor or resident. Lincoln Council has also banned consumption of alcohol and legal highs in public spaces in its city centre.

Manifesto Club said there were another four PSPOs out to public consultation and 19 under consideration.

These include potential bans on pigeon feeding, selling lucky charms, playing amplified music and begging.

Anyone caught flouting these rules could be hit with a £100 fixed penalty fine.

Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club, said: ‘These powers are so broad that they allow councils to ban pretty much anything.

‘The result 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”.’

However an LGA spokesman said: ‘PSPOs can be used to address anti-social activities in public spaces which are having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of local people. Anti-social behaviour offences, such as aggressive begging, public drinking or the sale of legal highs, are far from “bizarre”. For victims and communities affected, they are serious issues and councils are keen to protect them from offenders who can make the lives of those they target a misery.

‘Crime and anti-social behaviour by its very nature varies from place to place and that is why different councils are responding in a variety of ways.’

Oxford City Council said its action formed part of a ‘robust’ response to tackle ‘unacceptable behaviour’.

At the launch of the local PSPO, Lincoln City Council leader, Ric Metcalfe, said: ‘We want our city centre to be a safe and welcoming place for residents and visitors alike.’

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