Stop Swindon Council’s Attack on Street Culture

Stop Swindon Council’s Attack on Street Culture

 

Swindon’s Public Space Protection Order is an assault on the town’s civic life.

Skateboarding ‘or similar’ in an ‘annoying’ way, drawing pavement art with chalk, playing fetch with a dog without a lead, collecting money for a charity ‘assertively’, even peddling with a valid license could all become a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £1000 under proposals tabled by Swindon Borough Council.

Taken together these measures represent a highly heavy handed approach to the oversight of the public spaces in the town, and the unnecessary creation of vague and ambiguous criminal offences so we are constructively opposing this measure. Please take a moment to fill out your own response to this measure, the more people who complete the consultation, the more chance we have of stopping these measures.

This is the Keep Streets Live Campaign response to Swindon Borough Council’s online consultation on whether to create 

Please take the time to complete the consultation via this link: 

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/8ZNRZQN

Feel free to use our responses as a guide

There is also a petition against this measure here: https://www.change.org/p/swindon-borough-council-stop-the-swindon-town-centre-public-spaces-protection-order#petition-letter

Swindon Borough Council (referred to hereafter as ‘the authority’) hereby makes the following Public Spaces Protection Order that applies to the public space as referred to within the marked boundary in Appendix One: 

Proposed Restrictions: 

1. Dogs on leads
Any person in charge of a dog, at any time, must keep the dog on a lead unless subject to exemptions listed in Appendix Two below.

KSL response 

It should not be a criminal offence to walk a dog without a lead. Instead dog-owners should be treated as responsible persons capable of making their own judgments about the nature of their dog and its relationship to public safety under existing legislation. This prohibition is unnecessarily wide and has the effect of criminalising harmless activities like playing fetch with a dog in a public place. It will have the presumably unintended effect of turning Swindon’s public spaces into more alienating environments, for dog-owners and non-dog-owners alike.

2. Alcohol
Any person is prohibited from, at any time, consuming alcohol or having an open alcohol container, unless subject to exemptions listed in Appendix Two below. 

KSL response 

    Once again this prohibition is framed too widely and criminalises people unnecessarily, for instance a family having a glass of wine with a picnic, two lovers having a glass of champagne in the park. A discretionary power allowing the police to request that persons surrender their drink upon request would allow the authorities to deal with any antisocial behaviour resulting from alcohol use without the need for authoritarian and catch-all measures.

3. Begging
Any person is prohibited from, at any time, placing himself in a position to receive alms for a continuing period. 

KSL response 

This is a particularly problematic prohibition from an equalities act and Human Rights Act standpoint. Creating a criminal offence that catches the most vulnerable and destitute members of society is punitive and unlikely to be effective. A beggar is unlikely to be able to afford to pay a £100 spot fine and will likely end up in court where they would face a mandatory court charge of £150 before the magistrates even had chance to pass a judgment. It is conceivable that some vulnerable persons might face imprisonment as a consequence of non-payment of court fees and fines. At a time of rising poverty and homelessness a local authority should not be using these discretionary powers to punish the poor and vulnerable. Additionally, these measures would leave Swindon open to a formal legal challenge. Oxford City Council’s proposals to make ‘persistent begging’ the focus of a PSPO proposal resulted in a formal legal challenge from the Human Rights body Liberty and widespread protests: https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/news/press-releases-and-statements/liberty-calls-oxford-city-council-scrap-unlawful-plans Oxford City Council subsequently adjusted the wording of their proposal to say ‘begging that could reasonably be perceived as aggressive’, which, whilst still highly problematic makes the proposal more proportionate to the potential social harms caused by begging. This measure should be removed from the PSPO.

4.) Peddling/Street Trading
Any person is prohibited from, at any time, peddling/trading goods without the written permission of the authority, even if licensed. 

  KSL response 

The criminalisation of pedlars and street traders under this prohibition, even if they hold a valid license, is punitive and unnecessary and an attack on a legitimate way of making a living. Peddling is a valid and lawful means of making a living in the UK with a history that predates the 1871 Pedlar’s Act. The working of this prohibition is also vague enough to have worrying implications for other users of public spaces such as buskers who might make CDs of their performances available to passerby.

5.) Skateboarding
Any person is prohibited from, at any time, using a skateboard or similar in a way that may damage property or cause nuisance or annoyance.

KSL response 

The wording of this prohibition is vague and open ended:  ‘Any person is prohibited from, at any time, using a skateboard or similar in a way that may damage property or cause nuisance or annoyance’

This means that a skateboarder could face a criminal record and fines of up to £1000 for causing ‘annoyance’ to someone. What definition of ‘annoyance’ is being used? What, indeed, is ‘similar’ in relation to a skateboard? A bicycle? A tricycle? A zimmer frame? A scooter?

This is an unnecessary and punitive measure that will have a disproportionate impact on young people for whom skateboarding is a hobby and pastime, and creates an unnecessary relationship of antagonism between the local authority and the skateboarding community.

It is also probably unlawful because it creates an unacceptable degree of uncertainty about what behaviour is, and isn’t lawful. For example, is riding a scooter or tricycle in a way that someone finds annoying unlawful under this prohibition?

Existing legislation relating to criminal damage and public order is more than adequate to deal with any concerns about the ‘excesses’ of the skateboarding community.

6.) Marking surfaces/chalking
Any person is prohibited from, at any time, directly marking surfaces such as walls or pavements with paints, chalk or similar without the written permission of the authority.

Street art using chalk that can be washed off by an afternoon of rainfall or a bucket of water should not be a criminal offence. In no way can it meaningfully be said to have a detrimental effect on the local area, in fact, street art, alongside street entertainment is a long established part of any vibrant street culture and should be encouraged and supported by the local authority, not subject to punitive fines and criminalisation.

7.) Aggressive Charity Collection 

Any person is prohibited from, at any time, on land detailed in Appendix One below, engaging in assertive or aggressive (commercial or charity) collection or soliciting of money. 

KSL response

Once again the wording of this prohibition is dangerously vague and open-ended and creates a potentially ambiguous criminal offence of ‘assertive’ charity collection. What objective standard of ‘assertiveness’ or ‘aggressiveness’ is being proposed to evaluate an offence which carries a criminal record and fines of up to £1000?Why is existing public order legislation such as the Public Order Act 1986 which created the offence of causing ‘alarm, harassment or distress’ insufficient to address a situation where there were concerns about the approach of a charity collector? What standard of evidence will be used to establish that this ‘offence’ has occurred?This has been poorly thought through and is most probably unlawful, and would be open to legal challenge.