Exeter City Council PSPO proposal would criminalise buskers, the homeless and many more.

Exeter City Council PSPO proposal would criminalise buskers, the homeless and many more.

Please sign our petition against the criminalisation of the homeless, buskers and others in Exeter

shutterstock_252174412

 

https://www.change.org/p/exeter-city-council-don-t-criminalise-exeter-s-rough-sleepers-or-destroy-their-belongings

Labour-led Exeter City Council’s new ‘Public Space Protection Order’ (PSPO) will give the police and council officers the power to criminalise activities that they deem to be ‘antisocial’ such as rough sleeping, begging, or even busking. Those who breach the order could be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £100 or a fine of up to £1000 and a criminal record. The order also gives the council the power to seize and destroy the bedding and personal possessions of homeless people (A measure, which, especially during winter could leave them incredibly vulnerable to adverse weather).
Please take a moment to complete the online consultation about these measures after reading this article by clicking on the link below:
Exeter City Council online PSPO consultation

 

Homelessness has risen by 50% since 2010 under the current government and a recent study demonstrated that nearly 100,000 children in England alone are homeless, a figure that the chief executive of children’s charity Barbados Javed Khan called ‘a national embarrassment’. A measure that effectively criminalises rough sleeping and associated behaviours in Exeter city centre will only increase (already high) levels of stigma surrounding Exeter’s homeless population.It privileges the appearance of Exeter over its’ citizens’ wellbeing, and risks treating rough sleepers as a problem to be dealt with, as an inconvenience, as a threat, rather than as individual human beings. We already know that homeless people are amongst the most vulnerable in our society and are already victims of exceptionally high levels of violence, crime and victimisation which is often committed by the general public and largely goes unreported.
These proposals could also see some of the most impoverished people in the UK facing criminal charges and unpayable fines of up to £1000 just for refusing to remove their bedding when ordered to by a council official, or busking ‘without authorisation’. The PSPO would also give council officers the power to order any person, or group of people to leave the city if they thought it was ‘likely’ that they might behave antisocially, a power that is wide open to abuse and misuse. Taken together, these powers are not only  an attack on the cultural life of Exeter’s public spaces, they are also an attack on freedom of expression and freedom of association as well as an attack on the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

When Hackney Council introduced similar proposals, over 80,000 people signed a petition causing them to abandon their plans. When Oxford City Council introduced similar proposals over 72,000 people signed a petition asking them to think again and Liberty issued a legal challenge calling on them to abandon their unlawful attempts to criminalise homeless people and buskers. Liverpool City Council abandoned similar proposals at the consultation stage after a public outcry. Chester City and Cheshire West Council also abandoned their plans to criminalise busking and rough sleeping after a petition was signed by nearly 16000 people.

As Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty rightly pointed out in their legal challenge to Oxford:

“If somebody is forced to beg or sleep in a public toilet, that’s not antisocial behaviour – it’s poverty.  Oxford City Council should focus on finding ways to help the most vulnerable people in their city, not slapping them with a criminal record and a fine they can’t possibly afford to pay”

The Keep Streets Live Campaign is a not for profit organisation which advocates for public spaces which are open to informal offerings of art and music and other community uses.  We are calling on Exeter City Council to abandon their PSPO proposal. The council and police have strong existing powers to deal with the small minority of people who cause genuine antisocial behaviour, they have no need for the proposed sweeping and arbitrary measures.  We have seen public pressure prevent similar measures being adopted in Oxford, Westminster and Hackney and know that public pressure can stop this from happening in Exeter too. Let’s make sure that councils like Exeter and policy makers deal with the causes of homelessness such as lack of affordable housing rather than making the lives of the most vulnerable even harder.

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

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.