Group criticises council bans law
A new law which allows councils to ban activities in public spaces is leading to "bizarre new criminal offences", campaigners against heavy regulation have said - despite public approval for the measures.
The Manifesto Club says the elderly, young people, buskers and homeless people could be deemed criminals as councils and other authorities introduce a "patchwork of criminal law" as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act.
Authorities can use public spaces protection orders (PSPOs) to ban certain activities designed to restrict freedoms, the campaign group says.
They highlight areas where people are banned from retail parks and housing blocks under certain circumstances while begging and having open containers of alcohol are deemed criminal offences in some areas.
But authorities say the new laws - designed to restrict anti-social behaviour and improve quality of life for residents, and which are largely backed by public support - appear to be working.
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.
"This makes it hard for the public to know what is criminal and what is not.
"These orders will turn town and city centres into no-go zones for homeless people, buskers, old ladies feeding pigeons, or anyone else whom the council views as 'messy'.
"It is astonishing that in the 21st century you could be punished for the crime of selling a lucky charm, 'loitering', or failing to leave a retail park within 20 minutes. This looks like a return to the meddling and moralism of 19th-century by-laws."
A Manifesto Club briefing, published today, has identified a number of already enacted PSPOs which create new criminal offences.
In Colchester it is now a crime to drive into a retail park after 6pm unless the motorist is using the facilities.
The borough council said it was necessary to prevent anti-social car meets and nuisance motorists "having a detrimental impact on the quality of life for local residents".
In Poole, people are no longer allowed to beg for money in certain areas and are required to clean up after their dog as part of a range of measures passed in December.
A council spokesman said: "I can confirm we haven't had any reported breaches of the public space protection orders, so can confirm that this seems to be working."
Oxford City Council has passed a PSPO prohibiting people under the age of 21 from entering a tower block, unless they are legally resident or visiting a relative in the block.
Councillor Dee Sinclair said: "Of course, we also want to make sure our young people have things to do through our Positive Futures programme, but the unacceptable behaviour of a few has caused a great deal of misery and it is important that we tackle this problem robustly."
City of Lincoln Council has banned the consumption of alcohol and legal highs in public spaces in the city centre.
Council leader Ric Metcalfe said the authority recognised there was a problem relating to street drinking and the use of new psychoactive substances, adding: "We want our city centre to be a safe and welcoming place for residents and visitors alike."
A similar alcohol ban was introduced by Boston Borough Council, with more than 90% of the public wanting a total ban on drinking in some public parts of Boston town centre.
Councillor Stephen Woodliffe said: " Many members of the public have expressed their views in very forthright terms, which reflects the deep public concern that exists with this particular issue."
In Cambridge it is also a crime to have an open container of alcohol.
Lewis Herbert, Cambridge City Council leader, said: "This is an intentionally clearly-worded order for these three community spaces, which have suffered a decade of being taken over by groups of drunks.
"Parents with children, elderly people and cemetery visitors including dog walkers and residents are entitled to action to protect them from being intimidated and stop excessive damage caused to these spaces."
Another four PSPOs are out for public consultation and 19 are under consideration across the country.
These include potential bans on amplified music, unlicensed busking, begging, rough sleeping, pigeon feeding, drinking, loitering around cash machines and the sale of lucky charms and heather.