As they begin the process of “cleansing” the town centre ahead of the arrival of that consumerist’s wet dream, Hammersfield, Croydon’s Labour-run council wants to clear the streets of drug-dealers and prostitutes, charity fund-raisers, cyclists and skateboarders. PETER UNDERWOOD reportsYou will probably not have heard of it but Croydon Council is conducting another one of its poorly publicised consultation exercises. This time they are “consulting” over the introduction of a Public Spaces Protection Order, or PSPO.
A PSPO allows local authorities to start issuing fines to anyone doing anything that they don’t like and make these activities a criminal offence. Croydon Council has decided that there are too many people doing things they don’t like in the centre of Croydon and so they want to introduce a PSPO.
The area where it would be applied is extensive, from Northcote Road in the north, to South Croydon rail station in the south, and from Wandle Park in the west to Cherry Orchard Road in the east. And at the heart of it all is the current Whitgift Centre, Centrale and North End, which over the next three to four years is due to be redeveloped by Westfield and Hammerson.
Let’s look at the sorts of things the Council wants to stop.
First on the list is “street drinking/consuming alcohol”. While this category is very loosely worded (they all are), I don’t think that Croydon Council is going to start fining people for sipping a cocktail sitting outside Boxpark. I don’t think they are really going after the people standing outside pubs having a fag or even people opening a bottle of wine with their picnic in Wandle Park.
No, I suspect their target is those other people having a drink in the park or on one of the benches in central Croydon. You know the ones, the people who can’t afford the bars and the restaurants, the people who have nowhere else other than the street to drink because they have nowhere else to go. Croydon Council has clearly decided that just ignoring homeless people isn’t enough; it must now get rid of them. Not by offering them housing or support, but by issuing fines to people who we already know have no money.
What about some of the other soon to be banned categories? Surprisingly, Croydon Council has decided that it wants the power to issue fines to people involved in “drug dealing and/or drug use” and “prostitution related activity”.
First, this runs contrary to the view of many people involved in dealing with drug abuse who now think that treating drug use as a criminal issue instead of a health one is counterproductive. That is also the view of many organisations, including Amnesty International, who argue that criminalising sex work is bad for everyone involved.But perhaps more obviously, don’t we already have laws about drugs and prostitution? If people ignore the laws that already exist, why should Croydon Council think that having the power to issue fines is going to make any difference? And why should they be issuing fines, instead of following the established and proper legal process?
So who else does the council have its sights on? People who are “rowdy and/or inconsiderate”, which probably applies to us all at some point in our lives and virtually everyone in the centre of Croydon on a Friday or Saturday night. We also have “people who are acting in a manner which may cause alarm or distress”. Note the use of the word “may”. You don’t actually have to be alarming anyone or causing distress to anyone or have any intention of doing so, but if some official thinks you “may” be doing so, then you could be liable for a fine and a criminal record.
The more I look at the list of categories the council has put forward, the more it just looks like some official – or Westfield executive? – has written down a list of things they don’t like and wants to get them all banned.
If the council can ban things they don’t like, can I add some more of my own? Can I make it a criminal offence to keep on sniffing instead of using a handkerchief? How about a fine for anyone using the word “wozlike” when they should have used “said”? And men who wear brown shoes with a blue suit: that should be stopped right away.
I know that my petty niggles and prejudices shouldn’t be turned into laws and I don’t want anyone else’s to be either. Public spaces are for the public to use and this means that you get to see and hear the general public in all their wonderful diversity. You may not like what everybody does but I would much rather have a colourful, vibrant, if occasionally irritating, Croydon than the uniform Stepford-wife world promised by the march of these PSPOs to regulate our daily lives.
Some of you may think that bringing in PSPO and its fines is a good idea. I would first point out that the PSPO only applies in the centre of Croydon (the area around the new Westfield development). Even if the fines are effective, all they will do is move the people elsewhere. So any activity you don’t want to see in the centre of Croydon would now be more likely to turn up on your street, or where you work, or outside your children’s school.
The final page of the consultation asks if there is any other behaviour that you want added to the list. This is open-ended. Council officials may start by fining the homeless, the drug users, the prostitutes and the skateboarders, but if that revenue source dries up they can just keep adding more things to the banned list. If you believe that you live such a colourless, bland and uneventful life that nobody could find a reason to fine you, I should point out that the rest of us could get together and campaign to get “People who are dull and boring” added to the PSPO list as well.
So I would ask you all to complete the consultation and point out to the Council that they shouldn’t be wasting their time and our money on adding more regulations to our lives. It would be great if we all got on with each other and never irritated anyone but “not being lovely in a public place” shouldn’t be a criminal offence.
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