Housing campaigners have blasted a council scrutiny commission for “dismissing” as a “passing social media campaign” the public outcry over last year’s controversial Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), which critics argued “criminalised” rough sleeping.
The council’s PSPO allowed police or council officers to issue a £100 fixed penalty notice or fine of up to £1,000 to those found begging, sleeping rough in doorways or drinking alcohol in certain parts of the borough.
But it was forced to withdraw the PSPO amid negative newspaper coverage and a petition, signed by 80,000 people, calling for it to be scrapped.
The Hackney Citizen revealed yesterday that the council is refusing to rule out another PSPO as it looks for ways to tackle anti-social behaviour in the future.
A draft report by the council’s community safety and social inclusion scrutiny commission, published last week, said the council should not be “swayed by passing social media campaigns”.
Heather Kennedy of housing campaign group Digs has hit out at the backbench councillors for “dismiss[ing] the groundswell of public opposition to ‘Linden’s Law’ as a ‘passing social media campaign’.
“Let us assure Hackney Council that there is nothing ‘passing’ in the strength of local feeling against the criminalisation of homelessness.”
The 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 was produced as part of the Council’s scrutiny process, and is independent from the views of the leadership of the Council.
The report also recommended that Hackney monitors the “success” of the PSPOs currently in place in ten other London boroughs to assess the “circumstances they might be suitable for use”.
However, no PSPO currently in place in London addresses rough sleeping, according to research by libertarian group Manifesto Club.
Ms Kennedy said it was “disappointing that Hackney Council have failed to learn their lesson”.
She added: “Criminalising homeless people is cruel and unjust, particularly in a borough that routinely turns away rough sleepers from their offices without any meaningful offer of support.
“Hackney Council are well aware that rough sleeping is increasing in the borough as the housing crisis turfs more and more people from their homes.
“They should be tackling this with honesty and humanity, rather than implementing measures which seek to sanitise the face of Hackney by punishing the people they’ve failed to house.”
The other London boroughs that have introduced PSPOs are Kensington and Chelsea, Hillingdon, Lambeth, Camden, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Kingston, Brent, and Hammersmith and Fulham.
A spokesperson for Hackney Council said: “The Council certainly does not regard the views of residents as a ‘passing social media campaign’. As we said when we withdrew our previous proposals, we recognise the overwhelming strength of public opinion and will review the best way of tackling anti-social behaviour in Hackney.”
This story was updated at 11:39am on Wednesday 20 April, clarifying the role of the scrutiny commission, and the addition of a comment from Hackney Council.