Gravesham Borough Council join the attack on street culture with new PSPO proposal

Gravesham Borough Council join the attack on street culture with new PSPO proposal

Protect Street Culture: Have your say on Gravesham’s PSPO 

We are campaigning against Gravesham Borough Council’s proposal to introduce a ‘Public Space Protection Order’ (PSPO) which, amongst other things would make it a criminal offence punishable by a £1000 fine to play music or sing songs in the street without permission or if you stand in the wrong place, for the wrong length of time . The proposed PSPO would also make it a criminal offence to ‘lie down or sleep in any public place‘, to feed birds and to beg using ‘verbal, non-verbal or written requests’ as well as riding bikes down certain streets. The proposals will have a hugely disproportionate effect upon vulnerable and dispossessed people in Gravesend, particularly the homeless and vulnerably housed as well as representing a direct assault on the spontaneity, informality and democratic access to public space for the arts and street culture that the Keep Streets Live Campaign exists to protect.

Gravesham Borough Council are currently carrying out an online consultation on the proposals which ends on November 15. It is vitally important that people participate in this consultation whether they are  residents, visitors, tourists, buskers or people who care about civic freedoms, public space and social justice. The more people who take part in this survey and express their constructive opposition to these damaging proposals, the more chance we have of ensuring that they do not go through. The consultation will take between 10/20 minutes to complete depending upon the amount of detail you go into it. Your response will make a big difference to this campaign, so please find the time to do it if you can!

Link to the online consultation:

http://www.gravesham.gov.uk/services/council-and-democracy/consultations/public-space-protection-order

Link to the petition against the PSPO:

https://www.change.org/p/gravesham-council-don-t-punish-your-homeless-don-t-criminalise-your-buskers-cyclists-and-bird-feeders

We strongly encourage people to take part in this online consultation and to answer the questions as they see fit. We are publishing our answers to a selection of questions on the consultation as a reference for people and to explain our reasons for opposing the PSPO clearly. Please feel free to use our answers as a framework for your own responses

 

Do you support the use of a Public Space Protection Order to introduce No Alcohol Zones in the areas outlined above? (This would include streets, green areas and other public areas but not public houses, licensed premises or pavement cafes)

No

This proposal would give public officials and police officers a summary power that would be open to potential misuse if there were not clear guidelines attached and I would be concerned that enforcement action would be targeted at vulnerable groups of people and leave them open to criminalisation/marginalisation. Would a police officer challenge a family picnic where Prosecco was being drunk or would they target a group of vulnerably-housed people who were drinking canned lager instead? Any intervention or enforcement action should always be directed only at people whose actions are causing genuine harm to others, not arbitrarily.

Do you support the use of a Public Space Protection Order to deter people using or carrying items used to administer Legal Highs in public spaces in the area marked on the map

Don’t know.

Once again, any behaviour that causes alarm and harassment or distress to others should be dealt with appropriately and proportionately whether it is influenced by legal highs, illegal drugs or alcohol. I believe the resources of the police and local authority should be directed towards individuals that cause genuine harm to other people and that persons whose behaviour is not causing harm should not be a priority for enforcement. People who are not causing harm should not face enforcement action.

I am concerned about the impact of this measure against vulnerable people leading to criminalisation and marginalisation. The police and local authority have adequate powers to use against people whose behaviour causes alarm/harassment or distress towards other people. They can also use CPNs (Community Protection Notices) to target individuals whose behaviour is having a detrimental effect upon other people. I believe that a targeted approach, based on harm reduction and providing appropriate support to persons with addiction/mental health problems, is much better than blanket ban provisions of the sort proposed.

 Do you support the use of a Public Space Protection Order to deter people lying or sleeping in public spaces without prior permission in the area marked on the map?

It shouldn’t be necessary to complete an online survey to explain why these proposals are not only wrong, but also highly unethical. People who sleep rough are amongst the most vulnerable members of our society and subject to violence, harassment alongside the many other difficulties they face on a daily basis. Many choose to sleep in well lit public places because they feel safer there and are amongst people they know. Criminalising rough sleeping in the defined area may well cause people to find other, less safe areas where they could be subject to assault and victimisation. Furthermore, there is no evidence that coercive measures are an effective way of getting people to engage with support services. Some people might ‘choose’ to sleep rough because they feel unsafe in their temporary accommodation or because they are trying to get away from people who are using drugs or alcohol. There is absolutely no justification for enacting a PSPO which incorporates rough sleeping. The local authority should concentrate on providing adequate support services for all people, but even if there were safe and available beds for all homeless people (there aren’t), it would still be unethical and, unlawful, to criminalise people for sleeping rough.

Do you support the use of a Public Space Protection Order to deter the unauthorised collecting of money in public spaces and streets in the area marked on the map?

The vast majority of people who beg are vulnerable and destitute and are begging in order to survive. Whilst I don’t give money to people who beg I always offer to buy them food and have positive interactions with people begging who have always been grateful for someone interacting with them in a kind and non-judgemental way. I would not support coercive action taken against vulnerable people for begging in a way that doesn’t cause any harm to other people.

These measures will clearly affect the most vulnerable and should not be included in the PSPO. People asking for food or money because of desperate poverty should not face criminalisation and punitive fines that they could not reasonably be expected to pay. The proposed measure is ‘catch-all’ in nature by incorporating ‘verbal, non-verbal or written requests’. This will affect people who cause no harm or interference to other people. Enforcement action should only ever be directed against persons who behave in a way that causes alarm, harassment and distress to other people. Adequate powers to deal with this already exist.

In addition, persons issued with fixed penalty notices who are subsequently prosecuted in a magistrate’s court face a mandatory court fee of £150 which has led to the imprisonment of destitute persons in some jurisdictions. This proposal is unethical and wrong. This measure would also catch buskers who busked without ‘prior authorisation’. This wrongly criminalises a cultural activity and is an infringement on Article 10 rights to freedom of expression.

Which of these options do you support to deter inconsiderate busking in public spaces in the area marked on the map?

The option that asks the council to work on a new Code of Practise is a much better way of building good relationships of cooperation between local businesses, residents and the busking community. It would preserve the informality, spontaneity and democratic access to public space that is so intrinsic to busking whilst setting clear expectations for all those busking in Gravesend Crucially, enforcement action under the code of practice approach would only be directed at those persons whose behaviour had caused actual harm to others, unlike the requirement to ‘have permission’ which would create a new and arbitrary criminal offence of ‘busking without permission’. This would enable the local authority to target inconsiderate buskers whose actions not only cause problems for businesses and residents, but also other buskers, without creating a blanket ban which affects ALL buskers, regardless of harm caused. The council can use Community Protection Notices (CPNs) to target individuals whose behaviour is unreasonable, persistent and having a detrimental effect on the locality. This collaborative and targeted approach is much more appropriate for the oversight of a cultural activity such as busking, and, crucially, would have the consent and cooperation of the busking community and professional bodies such as Equity and the Musician’s Union.

The Code of Conduct could include designated sites for street entertainment which are intended to fulfill criteria such as: ensuring a good spread of sites throughout the town centre, minimizing obstruction of the highway and minimizing any potential impact on businesses and residents.

Do you support the idea of having designated sites/spots for street entertainment that could be regularly reviewed?

Designated sites would make it a criminal offence to busk anywhere other than those sites and for that reason alone should not form part of the PSPO under any circumstances. Proposed sites could leave out many spots that are currently popular for busking and may not include many spaces suitable for acts such as circle shows. Designated spots impose an undue rigidity upon the fluidity and informality of busking as well as having the unintended effect of concentrating complaints about busking outside specific premises often leading to those pitches being closed down and even less pitches becoming available. Instead of designating fixed pitches the code of practise should make clear that busking is allowed in public places provided that a) No obstruction is being caused b) the performer is mindful of surrounding premises and other users of the street and makes approbate adjustments to their act upon reasonable request. Enforcement action should be directed only at performers whose actions are causing a genuine nuisance and who subsequently refuse to comply with a reasonable request to adjust their performance.

Do you support the use of a Public Space Protection Order to deter the feeding of pigeons in public spaces in the area marked on the map?

Under these proposals Mary Poppins would become a criminal for feeding the birds with the children she is looking after. Would they also be in breach of the PSPO? Would a father who hands a piece of bread to his 9 year old son to feed the pigeons become an accessory to the ‘crime’? Adequate signage in appropriate areas, explaining why it is harmful to feed birds in certain places, coupled with non-coercive engagement from public officials would clearly suffice. If certain individuals persist in causing an issue by feeding the birds, existing powers are adequate to deal with them. There is no justification for a blanket ban which creates an unnecessary criminal offence.

Do you support the use of a Public Space Protection Order to restrict the riding of bicycles in the gated pedestrianised area of New Road, Gravesend, as marked on the map below?

It should not be a de facto criminal offence to ride a bicycle anywhere provided due consideration is shown to other road users at all times. “The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so. Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required. cyclists must give priority to pedestrians and must take the utmost care in areas where pedestrians hold sway. According to the Department for Transport’s Code of Conduct, cyclists need to weigh up whether there’s a critical mass of pedestrians: “In pedestrianised areas, only ride your cycle if there aren’t too many pedestrians about; otherwise dismount and push it.” Existing guidance is more than adequate. The PSPO would potentially criminalise people who are causing no harm to other people.

Do you have any other comments regarding the Public Space Protection Order?

The PSPO proposal wrongly conflates busking, rough sleeping, begging, riding bikes and feeding birds with ‘antisocial behaviour’, a term which is expanding its meaning to incorporate ever greater spheres of human interaction. It targets the vulnerable and marginalised through its provisions on rough sleeping and begging. It targets the cultural and artistic community in its provisions on busking and creates new ‘criminal offences’ which send a damaging message to the UK and beyond about what Gravesend is like and what kind of place it is. The provisions  on bird-feeding are silly as well as draconian and betray an over-regulatory mindset which overlooks the crucial principles of policing by consent, equality before the law and proportionality. The council and the police have the use of robust existing legislation such as the 1986 Public Order Act to deal with genuinely antisocial behaviour. It is already a criminal offence to be drunk or disorderly or to cause alarm, harassment and distress to other people. Under the Police, Crime and Antisocial Behaviour Act 2014 the police and local authority have additional powers to use Community Protection Notices (CPNs) against any person whose behaviour is unreasonable, persistent and having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the community. Used as a last resort, the CPNs enable the police or local authority to either issue Fixed Penalty Notices or fines of up to £2500 against persons who breach them. A far better approach to dealing with antisocial behaviour in Gravesham Borough Council would be firstly to separate activities like rough sleeping, begging, bird feeding, and busking from consideration altogether. it was wrong to include these categories in the first place. Secondly, for issues around drunkenness, legal highs, and alcohol the police and local authority should identify those persons whose persistent actions have caused alarm, harassment and distress to other people and targeted enforcement action against those individuals using existing powers. This targeted approach could be achieved by drawing up clear guidance for officers and public officials on how to engage with vulnerable people what the real priorities for enforcement really were. My feeling is that the PSPO approach is about administrative convenience above all else. If an activity is named on a PSPO it becomes an offence by default, even if it is not causing harm or inconvenience to any person. Fixed penalty notices of £100 could be issued to people for sleeping on benches, feeding birds, or singing songs. The fine could rise to £1000 and a criminal record if it goes to court. This punitive and disproportionate response will do little to improve genuine community safety and will come at the expense of freedom of expression and association, freedoms that are intrinsic to life in an open and democratic country. Unlike Fixed Penalty Notices under a PSPO, prosecutions under existing legislation or through the use of Community Protection Notices require the police and the local authority to gather evidence that the person being targeted has caused a genuine issue. This is a protection against arbitrary outcomes and the potential abuse of power. The police and the local authority have an essential role in upholding pubic safety. It is vital that their scare resources are directed towards activities that are genuinely harmful and impacting upon the community, rather than in a scattergun approach against rough sleepers, buskers and bird feeders. Nonetheless the PSPO consultation provides the local authority with a value opportunity to develop a code of practise for busking that has the consent and full participation of the busking community, to examine the provision of services to homeless people, and to develop clear guidance for engagement with vulnerable groups on the part of the local authority. The consultation exercise provides Gravesham Borough Council with a valuable opportunity to reflect upon what kind of place it wishes to be; the kind of place where people are made to feel welcome and included, whether they are a wealthy tourist or an impoverished and vulnerably housed resident, or whether it wishes to be a place where people face a criminal record for singing songs in the street and where, at the time of national housing crisis and widespread cuts to hostels and benefits, it becomes a criminal offence to sleep rough. It is greatly to be hoped that the opportunity to reflect upon these issues created by the consultation results in the wholehearted rejection of any measures that would criminalise the vulnerable and damage street culture.

End of Consultation

Liverpool Leads the Way

Liverpool Leads the Way

Two years is a long time in street politics

What a difference a couple of years makes!

In the summer of 2012 Liverpool City Council caused consternation amongst the grassroots cultural community when they introduced a controversial busking policy placing severe restrictions on the right to perform music and art in public spaces within the city. Anybody wishing to busk in the city was to be required to pay a license and to purchase a minimum of £10 million worth of public liability insurance (Usually costing over £100). The policy included a ban on all under-18 performers and what was dubbed ‘the Simon Cowell clause’ which allowed any civic or police official the power to pull the plug on a performance on the grounds that ‘it was not of sufficient quality’. Most controversially unlicensed buskers were to be issued with threats of trespass prosecutions on the public highway for ‘unauthorised’ performances. The Keep Streets Live Campaign was born in opposition to these plans which would have made Liverpool perhaps the least-busker friendly city within the UK. Following a petition, street protests and a formal legal challenge, Liverpool Council listened to the concerns of the Keep Streets Live Campaign and dropped their old policy in September 2012.

Well over a year later in January 2014 the Keep Streets Live Campaign received an invitation from the City Council to participate in talks to design new guidance for busking in the city, this time with the full and active involvement of the wider busking community. An open invitation was issued to buskers to be part of the process and, over a period of 7 months, around 15 face to face meetings were held between buskers, the Musician’s Union, Liverpool BID Company and the City Council to produce guidance that all could agree upon.

One of the key aspects of the new guidance is the provisions for buskers to have regular open meetings both amongst the busking community and with the City Council to discuss issues as they arise. This is to help good relationships amongst buskers and to ensure that buskers and the Council remain engaged in a positive, ongoing dialogue.

Buskers will not be required to get a license before they perform in the city but instead asks them to be considerate and respectful of other users of shared public spaces, and in turn, asks businesses and public officials who have issues with buskers to let them know in a polite and considerate way. It marks a complete watershed in the way that busking is overseen within the City of Liverpool and ensures that this world famous music city is leading the way in its active encouragement of street culture.

Promoting Harmony on the Streets

The Guide to Busking in Liverpool has been produced as a joint initiative with Musicians’ Union (MU), Liverpool City Council, the Keep Streets Live Campaign and the Business Improvement District (BID).

The 12 page best practice guide advises buskers, council officers, businesses and residents on issues such as pitch selection, noise levels and the best way of resolving issues. A laminated advice card is also being produced which highlights guidance and recommendations.

This move represents a new approach to street entertainment in Liverpool. In 2012 a managed system of buskers with licensed pitches was to be introduced but was opposed by buskers and the MU and the idea was dropped.

It is anticipated that that the new guidance will help reduce the number of complaints and lead to those which continue being resolved amicably. It also sets out the procedures for enforcement should this prove necessary.

Morris Stemp, North of England Regional Organiser for the Musicians’ Union, said:

“This is a real achievement for all parties concerned, and I’d like to congratulate Liverpool City Council and the BID for engaging so actively with interested parties and organisations to be with us at the forefront of this initiative.

“The aim of the guide is to foster a vibrant street culture which allows for spontaneity whilst at the same time making provision for constructively resolving any issues that may arise using existing statutory powers, and is an example I anticipate many will want to follow. It also blows apart the myth that busking is in some way illegal.

“This is in stark contrast to some less pragmatic authorities and councils, where heavy handed regulation and over-zealous bureaucracy stifle self-expression. Buskers in Liverpool now have a guide that will help nurture music and other art forms on the streets, with all the benefits this will bring to the city, to buskers and to wider society.

“I believe that collaborations such as this, where street entertainment is rightly valued and encouraged, will be the future for busking in cities, towns and villages in this country. I would urge other authorities to follow Liverpool’s pragmatic approach and let us help them provide a landscape which nurtures the talents which our members can provide.”

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said;

“It represents an entirely new approach to busking in Liverpool, a city famous for its culture and music. By working together with the busking community we will bring our streets alive for the benefit of everyone.”

Councillor Steve Munby, cabinet member for neighbourhoods said:

“I think visitors to the city would be surprised and disappointed if they didn’t find a lively street music culture, given the city’s reputation. But we also know there are complaints from business and visitors about noise and obstructions so we have tried to balance the needs of all parties.

“I don’t mind making mistakes as long as we learn from them. We recognised that an imposed solution was never going to work so we have brought together a range of organisations to produce this guide. This has been a unique partnership which bodes well for the future of street entertainment. I’m really grateful to everyone who’s been involved.

“The guide sets out a positive way forward and if everybody follows the guidance in it we can have a thriving street culture based on good relationships.”

Jonny Walker, Founding director of the Keep Streets Live Campaignsaid:

“The collaborative approach that Liverpool City Council have modelled in putting together this busking guidance makes it a pioneer amongst major cities worldwide in its active support for grassroots street culture.

“The busking community has had the unique opportunity of working alongside the local authority, the BID and the Musicians’ Union to preserve the spontaneity and informality which is intrinsic to the nature of busking, whilst actively seeking to build good relationships between all those who share public space in the city. It is right that buskers should be closely involved in decisions that affect them and it is to Liverpool City Council’s immense credit that they chose to include the busking community at all stages in the production of this guidance.

“The busking community will continue to cooperate with the local authority to ensure the ongoing success of this new approach, and will hold a regular open buskers’ meeting which all are welcome to attend. We are confident that this guidance will help to harness the capacity of busking to transform the experience of shared public spaces in the city, and to continue to play its part in what makes Liverpool such a wonderful place to live, work and visit.”

Bill Addy, Chief Executive of Liverpool BID Company, said:

“We welcome the introduction of this guide. It brings some clarity as to what is expected of everyone to ensure the vibrancy of Liverpool city centre is a cause for celebration and not consternation. Street entertainment can be a huge added bonus to the appeal of a city centre and this guide is a very encouraging step forward in ensuring Liverpool gets the balance right for all parties.”

The new guidance is being introduced in September with the first open busker’s meeting due to take place on the evening of Tuesday 23rd September at 7pm at the Lomax. On behalf of the Keep Streets Live Campaign I urge everyone who cherishes Liverpool’s vibrant street culture to come along, all are welcome.

Jonny Walker

Founding director, Keep Streets Live Campaign