The language of homelessness

It is important that we are clear about the language of homelessness – throughout my writing on this blog , and elsewhere, I will try to use the following terms:

Ambulant begging – The practice of walking up to people to ask for money, as opposed to static begging. Can be an unintended consequence of enforcement action taken against the more visible practice of static begging.

Anti-social behaviour (ASB) – is defined as “Behaviour by a person which causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as the person”. (Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003 & Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011)

Assertive outreach – A way of engaging clients and organising and delivering care via a specialised team to provide intensive, highly-coordinated assessment, referral and flexible support. Characterised by a persistent, long-term presence and approach to building relationships.

Begging – Asking people for money, and in this context includes behaviours which include poor-quality busking, crafts etc.

Designing-out – Adapting, changing and designing the built environment to deter behaviours that are deemed undesirable or anti-social. (E.g. removing benches in areas frequented by street drinkers, gating shop doorways to prevent rough sleeping etc.)

Enforcement – Assertive and potentially punitive actions under legislative powers designed to deter, prevent, disrupt or punish crime and anti-social behaviour.

Exit offer – A comprehensive and accessible range of responsive, flexible social support – delivered within a multi-agency framework – designed to meet an individual’s multiple and complex needs at the same time, in order to achieve a sustainable exit from street-attached lifestyles.

High-yield [begging] sites – Locations with a built environment that are sites of repeat begging activity because they are perceived to be particularly lucrative. Examples include ATMs, night-time economy venues, and outside shops of a particularly high footfall.

Homeless – “You should be considered homeless if you have no home in the UK or anywhere else in the world available for you to occupy. You don’t have to be sleeping on the streets to be considered homeless.” (Shelter.) People may still be considered homeless who are living in squats, in temporary arrangements with friends / family with no long-term prospect of settled accommodation, etc.

Multiple and complex needs – The experience of several problems at the same time, such as mental ill-health, homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, offending, and family breakdown. People with multiple and complex needs may have ineffective contact with services that are designed to deal with one problem at a time, and are are often trapped living chaotic lives.

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – also called “legal highs”, NPS are defined by the present government as, “‘Psychoactive drugs, newly available in the UK, which are not prohibited by the United Nations Drug Conventions but which may pose a public health threat comparable to that posed by substances listed in these conventions.’ They are currently legally available in retail shops and through online distributors, but are the subject of draft legislation. (Psychoactive Substances Bill, 2015-16)

Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) – A public spaces protection order is an order that identifies a specific public place and gives powers to the local authority to prohibit specified behaviours in the restricted area and/or requires specified things to be done by persons carrying on specified activities in that area. The order may not have effect for more than 3 years and the Local Authority must consult with the chief officer of the police and the local policing body before issuing the order.Failure to comply with a public spaces protection order is an offence. Exeter City Council is currently consulting about imposing a PSPO in the city centre.[1]

Rough sleeping – Also called “street homelessness”, a type of homelessness where an individual quite literally is reduced to living and sleeping in open, public spaces – whether through circumstances or choice. Many people who sleep rough will suffer from multiple health conditions, such as mental health problems and drug misuse, and they are also in greater danger of violence, suicide and premature death than the general population.

Sex work – The exchange of sexual services for material compensation – and this can include cash, accommodation, and drugs / alcohol. Sex work is usually grouped as indoor (escorting, massage parlours, brothels) or on-street (outdoor), with the latter being considered far more risky, and associated with more chaotic lifestyles. Exeter has little or no on-street sex industry.

Shoplifting – An acquisitive crime that occurs when someone steals merchandise offered for sale in a retail store. Repeat and prolific shoplifting behaviour can be associated with class A drug use, and some police forces are reporting increases in shoplifting caused by destitution.

Street activity – A broad, generic term for a range of street-based anti-social behaviour, including rough sleeping, begging, street drinking etc.

Street-attachment – A term that recognises the “pull” that street-based lifestyles and peer relationships may have on individuals – including those that are now housed. “Street-attached” individuals may still spent significant periods of time on the street, remain part of street communities, and engage in street-based anti-social behaviour.

Street community / street population – A broad term for groups of people who are street-attached, and engage in street-based anti-social behaviour.

Street drinking – Consumption of (often high-strength) alcohol in a public setting outside of licensed premises. Street drinking can be associated with increased anti-social behaviour, litter, and aggression.

Vulnerably housed – A term for people who are technically housed, but where their accommodation is sub-standard, not sustainable or otherwise not assured, or where it is not suitable to their needs or possibly even detrimental to their health and wellbeing.


Liberty’s concern over Exeter’s PSPO

I understand that the human rights campaigning organisation, Liberty, have taken an interest in Exeter City Council’s proposal to introduce a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) covering Exeter City Centre.

During the Parliamentary passage of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, Liberty opposed the creation of the PSPO scheme, used to criminalise otherwise lawful activity. They expressed concern, in particular, about the potential of these orders to curtail peaceful protest and to impose punitive restrictions on homeless members of the community. For more information on Liberty’s work in this area please see their dedicated campaigns page.

Liberty are concerned that Exeter City Council proposals contain a requirement to remove equipment used for sleeping on the streets, this covers any “materials used for shelter against the elements, weather or ground”, which can be disposed of or confiscated if not removed when asked.

They also expressed concern if these provisions are considered in conjunction with a separate provision which would make it a criminal offence to beg in a public place.

Outside of those provisions targeting victims of extreme poverty, Liberty feel that vague proposals prohibiting people from behaving in ways which could be construed as alarming or distressing – on pain of a criminal sanction – are deeply illiberal and raise obvious freedom of expression concerns.

Liberty plans to respond to the Council’s consultation exercise ahead of the newly extended deadline of 29th February. We have been contacted by a substantial number of your constituents who are also extremely concerned at what is proposed. A Change.Org petition against the proposals has been created and has so far received 11,573 signatures

The consultation proposals are available here.


Manifesto Club Freedom of Information Request to Exeter City Council





Manifesto Club Freedom of Information Request to Exeter City Council

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to enquire about your authority’s use of powers under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

I would like to know:

Public Spaces Protection Orders[PSPOs]

  1. Has your local authority brought through any Public Spaces Protection Orders [PSPOs] since these powers became available on 20 October 2014? If so, please give details of the PSPOs [please provide the text of the order(s), and if possible a map of the area affected].


2. Please state the council body or official who enacted the PSPO [eg, was the PSPO passed by a designated council officer, a designated committee, or full council?].

The Full Council is designated under the constitution to consider a PSPO

3. Did you carry out a public consultation before introducing the PSPO?

Not applicable – but see answer to Q7

4. How has this PSPO been enforced? – for example, please give the number of on-the-spot fines or prosecutions for violation of the PSPO; or any other available statistics regarding enforcement, for example alcohol confiscations.

Not applicable

5. Please state which officers are responsible for the enforcement of the PSPO [eg, council wardens, private contractors, or the police].

Not applicable – but see answer to Q7

6. Did your authority cancel or modify a draft PSPO after recieving feedback or opposition from members of the public?

Not applicable – but see answer to Q7

7. Are you planning or consulting on a PSPO to bring through in the future? If so, please give details: the text of the order and the planned date of consultation/enactment.

Details of the current proposals and consultation are available at

Community Protection Notices [CPNs] 

  1. Please state the number of that you have issued since October 2014. Please indicate the subject of these CPNs [eg, messy gardens, feeding the birds, busking, or begging]. If possible, please provide the text of these notices.
  1. Issued for feeding seagulls
  2. Issued for feeding seagulls
  3. Land being used for ASB and refuse accumulation
  4. Land being used for ASB and refuse accumulation
  5. Door slamming and shouting
  6. Fly posting
  7. Fly posting
  8. Fly posting
  9. Fly posting
  10. Fly posting
  11. Fly posting
  12. Fly posting
  13. Fly posting
  14. Fly posting
  15. Fly posting


Home Office | Reform of anti-social behaviour powers – Public and open spaces

Home Office logo

Reform of anti-social behaviour powers – Public and open spaces

What is the issue?

Public and open spaces play a vital role in communities across the country. However, where the actions of a selfish few ruin these spaces, through public drunkenness, aggressive begging, irresponsible dog ownership or general anti-social behaviour, these places can be lost to the communities who use them. It is vital that frontline professionals have fast and effective tools to deal with this.

How the new powers can be used?

Powers in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 will enable the police, councils and others to deal with people who behave anti-socially. Crucially, they provide maximum flexibility, allowing local agencies to work together to develop reasonable, proportionate and necessary responses to deal with anti-social behaviour.

Community protection notice: The community protection notice can provide a quick and effective response to those who persistently act in a way that has a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality. Available to councils and the police, this out-of-court notice can place restrictions on their behaviour (in the case of an individual, as long as they are aged 16 or over) and, if necessary, force them to take steps to rectify the issue. Depending upon the circumstances, the civil injunction, which is available on the civil burden of proof, could be a more appropriate option for local agencies.

In deciding whether the behaviour is having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality, issuing officers should consider speaking to victims and potential victims to understand the wider harm to individuals and the community. Not only will this ensure that victims feel that their problem is being taken seriously, but it will also add to the case against the alleged perpetrator. It will also ensure that officers do not use the notice to stop reasonable activities such as busking or other types of street entertainment or where its use would infringe a person’s right to freedom of expression or protest.

Dispersal power: The dispersal power can be used by police officers in uniform. Police community support officers can also use this power if designated by their chief constable. Use of the dispersal power must be authorised by an officer of at least the rank of inspector before use. The authorising officer must have regard to Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provide for the right for lawful freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, ensuring that the dispersal power is not used to stop reasonable activities where no anti-social behaviour is being committed. It may be appropriate for an officer of a more senior rank than inspector to authorise the use of the dispersal power where, for example, there is not an inspector on duty who knows the specific circumstances of the area. The authorising officer can sanction use of the power in a specified locality for a period of up to 48 hours making each decision on a case–by-case basis.

Public spaces protection order (PSPO): The PSPO is designed to deal with a particular nuisance or problem in an area. The behaviour must be having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the community, it must be persistent or continuing and it must be unreasonable. The PSPO can impose restrictions on the use of that area which apply to everyone who is carrying out that activity. The orders are designed to ensure that the law-abiding majority can enjoy public spaces, safe from anti-social behaviour. The council can make a PSPO on any public space within its own area but before doing so it must consult with the local police. The council must also consult whatever community representatives it thinks appropriate. This could relate to a specific group, (for instance a residents’ association), or an individual or group of individuals, (for instance, regular users of a park or for specific activities such as busking or other types of street entertainment).

Before making a PSPO, the council also has to publish the draft order in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State. An interested person can challenge the validity of a PSPO in the High Court on two grounds: (1) that the council did not have the powers to make the order or to include prohibitions or requirements, or (2) that one of the requirements (for instance, consultation) had not been complied with. An ‘interested person’ means an individual who lives in the restricted area or who works or regularly visits that area.

Proportionate and reasonable use of the powers

Our aim in reforming the anti-social behaviour powers is to give the police, councils and others more effective means of protecting victims, not to penalise particular behaviours. Frontline professionals must use the powers in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 responsibly and proportionately, and only where necessary to protect the public.

Ramblers and other groups representing the interests of users of rights of way and open space

Where a local council is considering making a PSPO which will impose restrictions on the use of specific types of land such as registered common land, a registered town or and village green, and open access land, or on public rights of way, it should consider discussing the proposal with relevant interested groups. It may also be appropriate to hold a public meeting when considering whether to make an order on these types of land to ensure that everyone affected has the opportunity to raise their concerns. This will allow the local council to explore using alternative means to stop or prevent the anti-social behaviour.

Registered common land: registered common land is subject to a separate consents’ process under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006 if works are done which might restrict access. Section 38 requires the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which is normally delegated to the Planning Inspectorate. In addition, section 16 of the Commons Act 2006 provides for exchange of common land (also requiring the consent of the Secretary of State). The PSPO provisions do not override this need for consent. The commons registration authority (county or unitary authority) should be contacted to establish whether the land is registered common land. Further detail on common land and the consent process can be found at: and

Where registered commons appear on open access maps, they are part of the open access regime and subject to a right of access on foot. Some commons also have other additional access rights, such as for horse riders. The commons registration authority can provide information on what access rights exist on the land. In such cases, relevant interested groups and users should be consulted on the proposed PSPO. It would also be good practice to discuss the proposal with the Local Access Forum (LAF).

Where a PSPO affects a common, those with a legal interest in the land should be consulted. This would include commoners, who have rights on the land, such as to graze animals or collect bracken, and the landowner. The commons registration authority can provide information on what common land rights exist.

Registered town and village greens: registered towns and village greens (TVG) have strong protection from development and the public have a right to engage in lawful sports and pastimes on the land. The commons registration authority can advise on whether the land is subject to TVG rights and which locality has these rights. Further information on TVGs can be found at: and

Open access land: gives people access rights on foot to mapped mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land. Natural England and Natural Resources Wales run a restrictions process which may offer a different and perhaps more appropriate solution to the use of a PSPO. If a PSPO is proposed on open access land, it would be good practice to discuss with relevant interested groups and users, the local access authority (generally the county or unitary authority) and the LAF: ( The National Park Authority is the access authority for open access land in National Parks.

Public rights of way: along with other measures, the PSPO replaces gating orders established under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005. Gating orders enabled local councils to prevent crime or anti-social behaviour by restricting public access to a public highway with a gate or a barrier. In general, rights of way do not cause or facilitate crime. To find out if a PSPO might affect a public right of way, contact the local highway authority (county or unitary authority). The local highway authority maintains the definitive map and statement of public rights of way and the list of highways maintainable at public expense. The highway authority may already have put a gating order in place under the previous regime and so will have data on its effectiveness. You should discuss any proposed PSPO which might affect a public right of way with the highway authority in advance. The local highway authority can also advise on user rights on the right of way and on which user groups should therefore be consulted.

PSPOs should be only be used where it can be shown that persistent anti-social behaviour is expressly facilitated by the use of a particular right of way. PSPOs will be particularly important in enabling the closure of those back (or side) alleys which are demonstrably the source of anti-social behaviour. Previously, applying a gating order was the only option available to local councils, but it may be possible under a PSPO to restrict specific activities that cause anti-social behaviour, rather than access in its totality.

In deciding whether to restrict access in its entirety through making a PSPO, local councils should consider whether residents and members of the public who use the relevant highway would be inappropriately inconvenienced by its closure and gating, and whether alternative access routes exist. However, this should not prevent the gating of highways on which activities are so dangerous that gating it is in the best interest of all concerned. The health implications of the order should also be considered, as gating could potentially encourage the use of cars if the alternatives are too long, or lack pedestrianised sections. The closure of a route might even deter people from making particular trips on foot completely. This should be balanced against the health impacts facing pedestrians from the ongoing crime or anti-social behaviour in the alleyway. In these situations a Health Impact Assessment could be carried out if there is any doubt over the availability and suitability of alternate routes and/or the proposed times the gates will be closed.

Before using a PSPO to gate a route local authorities should consider all representations. Interested persons should be informed about how they can view or receive a copy of the proposed restrictions to a public right of way, and be given details of how they can make representations and by when. The local council should consider these representations and should be prepared to provide a full justification to anyone who objects to a proposed PSPO.

Certain groups which may be directly affected are:

• all occupiers of premises adjacent to or adjoining the relevant highway;

• any authority through which the restricted highway will run including;

• any other council, including community, parish and town councils;

• fire authorities;

• NHS Trusts;

• any Local Access Forum through whose area the relevant highway passes;

• other public bodies and companies that do maintain or provide services on or around the locality in which the relevant highway is situated including:

• statutory undertakers;

• gas or electricity services providers;

• water services providers;

• communications providers.

There is no reason why an authority exercising its powers to make PSPOs over rights of way should not establish its own list of consultees. A good starting point can be found in the regulations dealing with the permanent closure of public rights of way under both the Highways Act and the Town and Country Planning Act which already prescribe certain organisations which must be notified of such proposals. These organisations are the Auto Cycle Union, the British Horse Society, the Byways and Bridleways Trust, the Cyclists Touring Club, the Open Spaces Society, the Ramblers, the Chiltern Society, and the Peak and Northern Footpaths Society (see Annex A of Defra Circular 1/09 for details: ( It is also good practice to discuss any proposal to close a public right of way with the LAF.

Freedom of expression and lawful protest

Agencies and frontline professionals must have regard to the Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provide for the right for lawful freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, ensuring that the dispersal power, the issuing of a community protection notice or the making of a public spaces protection order is not used to stop reasonable activities where no anti-social behaviour is being committed.

Buskers and street entertainers

Busking and other forms of street entertainment can enrich a community’s quality of life, play an important role in community life and can generate a positive atmosphere that is enjoyed by all. The police or local councils should not use the anti-social behaviour powers to stop or prevent appropriate busking or other street entertainment where it is not causing anti-social behaviour.


Bye-laws can be used as a longer term solution to ensure the peaceful enjoyment of

Vice | A London Council U-Turned On Fining People £1,000 for Being Homeless




17 June 2015

A London Council U-Turned On Fining People £1,000 for Being Homeless

by Mark Wilding

Fining people for being homeless. It’s the kind of idea that your uncle suggests at Christmas after 15 pints and a lifetime reading the Daily Express. An idea so illogical that, when you think about it long enough, it starts to acquire a kind of subtle brilliance in its stupidity. It’s the kind of idea to be filed alongside ideas like arming schoolchildren to stop bullying. Or blowing up the planet to tackle climate change. It is, categorically, not an idea that should ever become public policy.

Most people arrive at this conclusion after roughly 30 seconds. It took Hackney Council more than two months. In April this year the authority introduced a Public Space Protection Order, allowing council and police officers to issue on-the-spot fines for activities including rough sleeping, begging and loitering. Anyone who couldn’t pay would face a court appearance, possibly even prison. The policy went unnoticed for around a month, largely because it was introduced without any public consultation. Then it was picked up by the local press, and everything kicked off.

80,000 people signed a petition calling for the order to be scrapped. Condemnation flooded in from local and national charities, campaigners and pop stars. News stories appeared everywhere from the Morning Star to the Metro. Last week, the council tried to stop the backlash by announcing that rough sleeping would no longer be included as an offence. This week, it announced the order had been scrapped altogether – presumably because various people pointed out that things like loitering are also kind of hard to avoid when you’ve got nowhere to go.

Great news, but so many questions to be answered. How did this happen in the first place? How does a local authority wield the power to slip through such a fundamental change in the law? How did it nearly go unnoticed? Exactly how fucked is society when a council re-legalising homelessness feels like a victory?

Deputy mayor Sophie Linden initially sought to defend the council’s actions by claiming that, “Of course there is no point fining people who can’t pay, and we will not seek to do this,” suggesting that the Public Space Protection Order was like the nuclear deterrent of housing policy – never to be actually used – rather than a mean spirited attempt to brush a difficult problem under the carpet. Announcing that the policy had been scrapped, Linden assured residents, “We recognise the strength of feeling on this issue, and will of course consult on any future plans.” Let’s translate that: “Yes, we got caught sneaking this through.”

Is this meant to be reassuring? Democracy is supposed to rely on a system of checks and balances, not vague promises from politicians that they’re not really planning on using the draconian policies they’ve introduced by the back door. Maybe Hackney Council thought consultation wasn’t necessary. After all, they have a mandate from the borough’s electorate. But Hackney’s been under Labour control for 14 years – no other party has held an overall majority since 1971. Essentially, it’s a one-party system. Which makes it all the more worrying when councillors decide they can go around changing the law without even asking.

This was a policy slipped through with an oxymoronic title that suggested space was being protected for the public, rather than from it, in a move presumably inspired by the school of political thought which saw the bedroom tax rebranded as the “spare room subsidy”. That was bollocks, and so was this. In the face of initial criticism, the councilblamed the standard of media coverage, rather than questioning the standard of the policy. It was only a public backlash of a scale that couldn’t be ignored which forced the council to perform a U-turn. What else might slip by unnoticed?

Heather Kennedy is a member of Digs, a Hackney-based housing campaign group which fought against the council’s policy. “This is a victory for people power and shows what we can achieve when we organise and take action,” she said. “This should send an unequivocal message to the council and developers that the people of Hackney won’t stand by whilst victims of the housing crisis are conveniently sanitised from public view. Hackney is for everyone, not just the affluent few.”

She’s right. What’s happened in Hackney shows how important it is to fight for the kind of society we want. Or, at the very least, to call out the politicians who fail to do that for us.



Vice | Fining People £1,000 for Being Homeless Is a New Low for London




04 June 2015

Fining People £1,000 for Being Homeless Is a New Low for London

by Mark Wilding


Imagine you have almost nothing in the world. No job, no home, no possessions. You have no material wealth at all. The only thing you have is your right to exist, your only possession your right to sit, to sleep, to literally just be.

Now imagine having that taken from you as well.

This pretty much just happened, in London. Not in Qatar, or Russia, or one of countless other places where human rights abuses are about as common as passing traffic.

This happened in Hackney, where the council recently introduced a Public Space Protection Order allowing police and council officers to issue fines of up to £1,000 for a range of so-called offences including begging, loitering and rough sleeping.

In other words, a London borough just criminalised being homeless.

Homeless people have faced an increasing infringement of their rights in recent years. Until now, this has largely been driven by the private sector, which uses armies of security guards and “defensive architecture” such as anti-homeless spikes and anti-sleeping benches to ensure only the right kind of people are allowed access to their properties. This is itself a problem, given the rate at which public space is being seized by the grasping hands of private companies. But the fact that a local authority – a body which has a duty to protect its most vulnerable residents – is criminalising homelessness, marks a shocking escalation of an already disturbing trend.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive at homelessness charity Crisis described Hackney’s policy as “counter-productive”, pointing out that “people in desperate circumstances deserve better than to be treated as a nuisance”. Mark McPherson, director of strategy at Homeless Link, said, “any move to criminalise sleeping rough could simply create additional problems to be overcome”. In Oxford, a similar proposed ban on rough sleeping was scrapped after an outcry during the consultation process. By contrast, Hackney Council didn’t bother conducting a public consultation before introducing the policy. If they had, they might have heard from tens of thousands of people who havesigned a petition calling for the rough sleeping ban to be lifted.


All this probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is a local authority which, when it’s not harassing rough sleepers, goes about bulldozing historic buildingsclamping down on nightlife, and generally turning its patch of East London into one big gentrification Disneyland where the strict rules and expensive food are all worthwhile so long as the value of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle keeps rocketing upwards every year. But making homelessness illegal? This is a new low.

The council has claimed that enforcement will be a last option and that the order is intended to persuade rough sleepers to take up the help that is on offer. By doing so, it suggests that anyone still sleeping rough is doing so out of choice and is engaged in “persistent anti-social behaviour”. Speaking to charities working with homeless people in the area, they tell a different story, pointing out that certain groups such as immigrants are often ineligible for hostel accommodation unless they agree to return to their home countries.

Reasons for the policy apparently include people “fighting” and “spitting on passers-by”. That stuff is not cool, but is clearly already illegal. Other parts of the policy seem reasonable on the face of it – like banning people from “defecating in a public place”. Except it’s not that reasonable when the number of public toilets is in decline and you can’t afford to be a customer in a bouji café or a cocktail bar. It’s not like anyone’s shitting in the street for a laugh.

Other offences are so gloriously vague it would seem almost impossible to avoid breaking them. How long do you have to stand around before it counts as loitering? The council argues that it’s not seeking to criminalise homelessness, but would it really be possible for a homeless person to go a day without committing any of these offences? The £1,000 penalty makes the policy as laughable as it is outrageous. In case you missed it, homeless people tend to be a bit short on cash. They might as well ask for payment in magic beans.

So far, despite mounting outrage over the policy, the council has refused to back down. Deputy mayor Sophie Linden published a statement which said Hackney’s residents have a “right to live in a safe, non-threatening environment”, which raises troubling questions about who decides what’s “safe” and “non-threatening”, and why homeless people don’t also share that right.

Hackney’s Public Space Protection Order does the exact opposite of protecting public space. By outlawing the “anti-social”, it destroys the social function of our public spaces, where people from all walks of life interact. It’s bad enough that our cities are being bought up by corporations with a stronger responsibility to their bottom line than to the poor and disenfranchised, without public authorities going down the same path. Public spaces should be for everyone – not least those who have no private spaces to call their own.

In the opening paragraph of his 2001 book, Tearing Down the Streets, professor Jeff Ferrell wrote: “Something’s gone wrong. Something has shifted away, away from what it means to live our lives together in public, away from a sense of the city as an open, inclusive community.” Nearly 15 years on, things are still going wrong. And it seems they’re only getting worse.


Open Democracy UK | The end of public space: one law to ban them all

Open Democracy logo

The end of public space: one law to ban them all

Laws handing sweeping new powers to police and private security to restrict access to public space are extinguishing the diversity of civic life.

The idea of public space, as it developed in the modern period, was space for the free use and enjoyment of the citizenry. The temper and character of public space should be determined not by any private or public authority, but by the ways in which people choose to use it.

A bill currently passing through the UK parliament will mean the death-knell of this principle. When the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill becomes law in a few weeks, we can say that there is no longer such a thing as public space proper in Britain.

This Bill greatly expands powers for state authorities to control who can do what in public space – to such a degree that councils and the police will have an almost free hand to determine the use of all public spaces from civic squares to rural footpaths.

These new powers include ‘Injunctions for the Prevention of Nuisance and Annoyance’, under which anybody whose activity could cause ‘nuisance and annoyance’ to ‘any other person’ can be issued with an injunction prohibiting them from this activity or imposing positive conditions upon them. This ‘annoyance’ definition is so broad that it could catch most things people do in public space – after all, busking, preaching, protesting, wearing certain clothes, singing etc, all annoy somebody.

Simultaneously ‘Public Space Protection Orders’ (PSPOs) will mean that local authorities can ban activities which they believe have a ‘detrimental effect’ on the ‘quality of life’ of the area. Again, this could catch almost anything – skateboarding, ball games, public drinking, talking loudly and so on. Worse, it is a summary power meaning the authority doesn’t have to consult the public and can be targeted at particular groups. A council could ban homeless or young people from a park, or from a town centre at particular times.

A new dispersal power will allow police to remove any individual from ‘a locality’ for up to 48 hours; and new confiscation powers will allow them to confiscate property which they believe has been used (‘or is likely to be used’) in an activity which ‘harasses, alarms or distresses a member of the public’.

All these powers have precursors. The injunctions replace ‘anti-social behaviour orders’; PSPOs replace separate powers to ban dogs and public drinking. These previous powers were bad enough: the Manifesto Club created a Google map of London at, showing how little of the capital remains untouched by no-leafleting, no-drinking, no dogs or no-protest zones.

But the new bill will take things to an entirely new level, removing existing checks on the use of powers, such as the need for public consultation or to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt. This bill will make authorities’ total control over public space a daily reality.

Similar powers have developed recently across the Western world. In Australia, the ‘prohibited behaviour order’ can be used to prohibit someone who has not been convicted of a crime from activities such as carrying pens or going to a public library. The book, Banished: The new Social Control in Urban America, charts the development of draconian powers in US cities, ranging from ‘stay out of park orders’ which ban somebody from city parks, to ‘stay out of area orders’ which can ban someone from an area of the city, including the entire city centre, and ‘trespass orders’ which prohibit someone from entering particular property, such as a housing estate or shopping mall.

These controls are exerted by a fusion of public and private interests, with state authorities and business interests (who are increasingly the legal owners of what we think of as public space) forming seamless collaborations to restrict what they see as unseemly or ‘messy’ activities. These collaborations include: private security guards issuing fines on behalf of councils; business associations pressuring for new restrictions such as leafleting bans; the police issuing trespass orders on private property without the owner’s consent. This is a new alliance of a business and state elite, set against civil society. What turns out to be ‘messy’ is social life itself – skateboarders, protesters, buskers, leafleteers, children playing games – that is, any activity that is not shopping or getting from A to B.

We need not look to Russia or China, but only to our own squares and streets for a warning of the threat to public space.

What now? I am part of a coalition called Reform Section 1, which successfully convinced the Lords to vote to tighten up Injunctions in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill. This is good news, but the contents of the Bill are so extreme that amendments at this stage will only solve part of the problem.

What is needed is a comprehensive rediscovery of the idea of public space; and then, its concerted defence against the forces which would squash it out of existence.

This piece first appeared in the Architectural Review

About the author

Josie Appleton is director of the Manifesto Club, a campaign group for freedom in everyday life.