Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) may be introduced in future, if recommendations from a Hackney Council scrutiny commission go ahead, despite the hasty withdrawal of one last year following a national outcry.
PSPOs allow councils to crack down on ‘anti-social behaviour’ in specific public spaces that may have a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”.
Since the withdrawal of Hackney’s PSPO, the council has reviewed “what new powers would be best suited to addressing [anti-social behaviour] related to rough sleeping and aggressive begging”.
The council’s community safety and social inclusion scrutiny commission, which is made up of six councillors including the Speaker of Hackney Sade Etti, “considers issues relating to crime, community safety, economic regeneration and social inclusion”.
Its draft report, published on Monday 11 April, claimed that if the council had publicised the “positive aspects” of the PSPO, then it could have “avoided the need to withdraw its implementation”.
The report was produced by a backbench committee, as part of the Council’s scrutiny process, and is independent from the views of the leadership of the Council.
The draft report also states: “It is important that the council is not swayed by passing social media campaigns but that instead, it engages in public discussion that addresses concerns head on without being confrontational or defensive.”
The council’s scrutiny committee has recommended that Hackney should monitor the “success” of PSPOs that are currently in place in ten other London boroughs to assess in which “circumstances they might be suitable for use”.
Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act
PSPOs became law as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act of 2014.
A Protection Order was quietly introduced by Hackney Council at the end of April last year, but after a story by the Hackney Citizen it quickly caused outrage from residents and local campaigners who argued it criminalised rough sleepers.
At the time, the council said the Protection Order was being put in place to tackle persistent “anti-social behaviour” such as begging, street drinking, and rough sleeping in designated “hotspots”.
The PSPO gave the police and council officers the power to issue rough sleepers with a £100 on-the-spot fine.
Following a social media campaign against the PSPO, which included a petition that attracted more than 80,000 signatures, Hackney’s deputy mayor Sophie Linden initially announced that the council would remove the reference to rough sleepers, and then later said that the PSPO would be withdrawn altogether.
However, even if a PSPO were to succeed in reducing anti-social behaviour, that does not necessarily justify its use, warned Connor Johnston, a barrister who specialises in homelessness cases.
Mr Johnston, who lives in Hackney, told the Citizen: “The fact that a PSPO might have worked in other boroughs does not automatically make it a proportionate response, or one that should be adopted here.
“These orders are likely to affect a very vulnerable group of the population. Real care needs to be taken to ensure that their plight is not made worse.”
Responding to the scrutiny commission’s report, Mr Johnston pointed out that local authorities were legally required to carry out a fair consultation before introducing a PSPO.
He said: “This means seeking out the views of those affected by the decision for better or worse, not simply those who support it. And it means considering those views with an open mind before making a decision.”
“So the council should not be making up its mind in advance.”
Mr Johnston added: “The order, which effectively criminalised those sleeping rough, went far further than was needed to meet the legitimate aim of reducing anti-social behaviour. That needs to be born in mind in this context.
The council claimed it had consulted the necessary stakeholders as required by law.
It also advertised the introduction of this controversial legislation in the statutory notices section of its freesheet, Hackney Today.
A Hackney Council spokesperson said: “We currently have no plans to introduce a PSPO in Hackney. The community safety and social inclusion scrutiny commission decided to look in-depth at progress being made around anti-social behaviour, which continues to have an negative impact on the lives of some of our residents.
“Following the withdrawal of the proposed PSPO in Hackney last year, one of the commission’s recommendations is that the council monitors the use of PSPOs in other areas, to assess in what circumstances they might be suitable for use. This recommendation will be reported back to cabinet in due course, as with all recommendations of the various scrutiny commissions.”
This article was updated at 11:44am on Wednesday 20 April with clarification of the role of the scrutiny commission.