The curious incident of the PSPOs in the night-time
For more than a year now, Liberty has been fighting the cruel trend of local councils using Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) to criminalise the homeless.
We've had some notable successes, as have local campaigners – forcing several u-turns and watering down of the most unfair proposals. Despite this, worrying proposals continue to pop up around the country.
The latest is in Wrexham.
The town that dreaded sundown
Wrexham County Borough Council’s plan to counter anti-social behaviour in the town centre is currently open for public consultation.
That plan involves criminalising “sleeping within Wrexham Bus Station in King’s Street, and any public toilet facilities within the Town Centre during the hours of darkness” [emphasis added].
It doesn’t take a genius to see that these proposals are targeted at people who could be very vulnerable – and sadly this isn’t the council’s first Order to do so. Earlier this year, it succeeded in passing a PSPO which bans sleeping in two parks – also at night.
The power to introduce these Orders was created by 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”.
But sleeping rough isn’t in and of itself anti-social behaviour. Bedding down in a public toilet is not something that anyone would happily choose to do – and it’s certainly not a devious plan to ensure the gents of Wrexham are caught short on a night out.
PSPOs don’t alleviate hardship on any level. They are blunt instruments which fast-track so-called "offenders" into the criminal justice system.
Breaching a PSPO can result in an on-the-spot £100 fine. If an individual is unable to pay, they can face criminal prosecution and a £1,000 penalty – resulting in a criminal record and potentially unaffordable debt for the poorest in society.
Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales Arfon Jones recently voiced his concern that the Wrexham Council’s PSPO addresses “the symptoms rather than the underlying causes”.
He believes the PSPO will only “move the problem away from the area where the services are for these people who are predominately homeless and have a variety of problems like mental health and addictions”.
As Liberty has warned time and again, criminalising rough sleepers is only going to push poverty and its causes further underground, leaving vulnerable people in an ever more marginalised position.
From dusk till dawn
This is the second time Wrexham has opted for a nocturnal Order, and last week Teignbridge banned rough sleeping at night in Dawlish.
So how does limiting a PSPO’s operation to “the hours of darkness” help things? It doesn’t.
When Chester planned to ban sleeping in Grosvenor Park at all times of day, the proposal was ridiculed as sunbathers would have been on the receiving end of heavy penalties. Restricting Orders to night-time is probably an attempt to prevent similar perverse outcomes – but it’s actually an absurd complicating factor.
If an Order is capable of being enforced, we need to know the answer to the fundamental question of who polices the light? Exactly when is it officially dark?
Wrexham’s caveat is simply poor window dressing.
There’s still time
The public consultation for the council’s latest proposals is open until tomorrow (Tuesday 28 June).
The people of Wrexham must make their voices heard by taking part in the online survey or writing to their councillors urging them to scrap these unjust plans.
The simple act of rough sleeping isn’t anti-social behaviour, and shouldn’t lead to criminal punishments. Liberty’s successes and those of local campaigners over the past year demonstrate that, if some light is shone on these dangerous plans, councils will often make the right choice and back down.
Until we secure a much needed change in the law to outlaw PSPOs once and for all, we need to make as much noise as possible about their effect. Together we can take a stand.