Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Written evidence from the Open Spaces Society (ASB 29)

Summary

The Open Spaces Society is concerned about chapter 2, clauses 55-68 of the bill, which introduce public spaces protection orders (PSPOs). We fear these will lead to loss of public amenity, whether or not this is intended. While we are sympathetic to the need to curb anti-social behavior, we believe that the bill should be amended, and suitable guidance issued, to ensure the PSPOs achieve what is intended without damaging the public interest.

Introduction

1 The Open Spaces Society is Britain’s oldest national conservation body, founded in 1865. We campaign for common land, town and village greens, open spaces, public paths and public rights of access, in town and country, throughout England and Wales.

2 The society has long been involved in promoting urban recreation and the use of urban spaces. One of our first victories, a year after we were founded in 1865, was to rescue Hampstead Heath from development. Shortly after that we saved other urban commons for public enjoyment. So we have a proud history of defending the public’s rights to enjoy spaces and paths in the towns.

Public spaces protection orders

3 These replace designated public place orders, gating orders and dog control orders. However, the Open Spaces Society believes that the PSPOs are more vicious and wide ranging than any of those orders.

4 A local authority may make a PSPO if it is satisfied on reasonable grounds that two conditions are met: (1) that activities carried on in a public place have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality, or that it is likely that activities will

have such an effect; and (2) that the effect or likely effect is, or is likely to be, of a persistent or continuing nature or is, or is likely to be, such as to make the activities unreasonable, and justifies the restrictions imposed by that notice.

5 The order identifies the public place and prohibits specific activities in the area, and/or requires specific things to be done. While it is limited to ‘reasonable’ prohibitions or requirements, it does not define ‘reasonable’. No doubt most authorities would act with restraint, but there is nothing in the bill to prevent an order from prohibiting anyone from entering the area. If that were to be the case, the order would make trespass, normally a civil offence, a crime. We consider that to be a serious matter.

6 An order could apply to land where the public has rights of access, such as registered common land or other access land, town or village greens or local green space. Such areas are usually much enjoyed by the public and in many cases the public’s rights are of a historic nature, part of the culture of the community.

7 We therefore consider that the bill should be amended to exclude from PSPOs any land which is registered common land or town or village green, or mapped access land. This might best be achieved by amending the definition of ‘public place’ in clause 67(1)(a).

Advertisement (clause 55(7))

8 The authority is not required to advertise its intentions. In clause 55(7) it is only required to consult the police and ‘whatever community representatives the authority thinks it appropriate to consult’. This is totally inadequate, since the public space or public highway may be used and enjoyed by a wide range of people.

9 We consider that, at the very least, there should be a prescribed list of organisations to be consulted, to include the Open Spaces Society, Ramblers and others. There are many precedents for this: for instance local authorities are required to notify a list of organisations when they make orders to alter the routes of paths; and there is a prescribed list of consultees for matters relating to access land in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, and for matters relating to coastal access in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

10 Furthermore, in this bill, the authority is not required to pay any attention to what the consultees say. There should be a requirement for a public hearing or public inquiry if there are objections to the order. Ideally in such cases the decision would be taken out of the local authority’s hands and referred to the independent Planning Inspectorate, as occurs for contested path-change proposals.

Duration (clause 56)

11 The duration of orders before review, three years, is far too long. There should be a review after six months to assess whether the order is having the desired effect.

Public highways (clause 60)

12 An order can also include a public highway (clause 60), and the authority is only required to ‘consider … the availability of a reasonably convenient alternative route’ among other things. It is not required to ensure that such a route exists.

13 We consider that there should be a prescribed list of consultees, with provision for a public hearing or inquiry in the case of objection and there should be a requirement on the authority to ensure there is a suitable alternative route (as is indicated in para 150 of the explanatory notes). However, it would be simpler and infinitely preferable for the bill to be amended so that a PSPO cannot be made on a route which is shown on the definitive map and statement as a public highway.

Challenge (clause 62)

14 The procedures for challenging the validity of orders are limited to ‘an individual who lives in the restricted area or who regularly works in or visits that area’. That is far too limited, particularly as there is no means of objecting to the imposition of the order. In any case, the individual’s only recourse is to the high court which is prohibitively expensive and means that few people will be able to challenge an order. They would no doubt request organisations such as the Open Spaces Society and Ramblers to assist them, but under the bill these organisations have no locus. There should be no restriction on who can challenge the validity of the order.

Interpretation (clause 67)

15 We are concerned that in clause 67 the definition of ‘local authority’ includes ‘district council’. This means that, in a two-tier authority, a district will make a PSPO for an area for which it is not the highway authority (the highway authority being the county or unitary council). Thus the district makes the PSPO, which could involve a public highway, without having to consult, or even inform, the county council which is authority with responsibility for that route. Similarly, the county or unitary council (outside national parks) is the access authority and the district could therefore make a PSPO affecting public access without informing or consulting the access authority. Highway and access authorities have both day-to-day responsibility for maintaining highways and access land and strategic responsibility for overseeing the access network as a whole. It is therefore unacceptable that PSPOs should be made by bodies other than the highway or access authority.

16 We suggest that the definition of local authority in clause 67(1)(a) is amended so that the highway and access authorities only can make PSPOs. In two tier authorities, if the district wishes to make a PSPO, it must apply to the county council to do so on its behalf.

Conclusion

17 The Open Spaces Society urges the Public Bill Committee to amend the Bill to protect the rights and interests of legitimate users of paths and public open spaces during the process of considering and making PSPOs.

July 2013

Prepared 5th July 2013