WALTER CRONXITE reports on a Town Hall proposal which few people want, and which would provide ‘powers’ which already exist
Another week, another lip-service “consultation” from the council. Only this one’s a bit special, possibly the work of a comedy evil genius, as it revives a previously rejected scheme and appears to contradict other council initiatives being taken in the town centre.
What is being proposed (again) is a Public Spaces Protection Order, or PSPO. If – or when – it is implemented, it could make a swathe of public space in Croydon a good deal less public, while the only thing it will really be protecting will be commercial interests… like the Hammersfield supermall, if it ever gets built.
The illogicality of this scheme is that it works directly against other recent measures – such as the council’s proposal to relax licensing restrictions.
According to the PSPO consultation document from the council, “Street drinking has a negative effect on the general public.” No shit, Sherlock.
This from the same council which has just spent £1.2million in Surrey Street, including overtly encouraging on-street drinking in what is supposed to be a drinking-restricted zone. And this from the same council which provided a £3million loan so that Boozepark could be open to sell… well, booze, possibly until 1am on weekend mornings.
Effectively, now Croydon Council want to encourage people to go out on the town and get pissed, so that they can then wallop them with 80-quid fines for being drunk in the town centre.
Katharine Street sources suggest that it is more than mere coincidence that this PSPO consultation is being pushed through before the publication of the council’s promised report on the night-time economy, which is now months overdue.
“They want all the ‘nice’ bits of having a night-time economy, they like to think of themselves as being ‘edgy’, but without the horrible bits, like the police call-outs and the puddles of dried sick which commuters have to step over in the morning,” the source said.
“Trouble is, the police don’t have the manpower, or the will, to look after the consequences of what they call ‘a vibrant town centre’, so the PSPO will allow for the effective privatisation of policing the town centre area. There’s something very Dystopian about it.”
The obvious place where the PSPO might be applied is in and around the £1.4billion mega-mall proposed by Westfield and Hammerson.
Croydon Council’s moves come despite other parts of London lobbying Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, to use his development strategy for the city to stop the creeping privatisation of public space.
Other boroughs, and other Labour-run local authorities, see commercial and office building owners seeking to annex the public realm and exercise PSPO powers to create what sometimes amounts to an “exclusion zone” around their property. Some councils, though clearly not Croydon, see this as a real problem.
In the Grauniad recently, Professor Richard Sennett, who works on urban development at the London School of Economics, said, “It’s really shocking. What are local councils so afraid of? Conditions could be placed on new developments that force the creation of real public space and full transparency about land ownership and public rights.
“But in Britain we’ve long had this attitude of appeasement towards developers. If planning authorities were strong, rather than constantly bending over backwards to show how development-friendly they are, they would find that the companies fall into line.”
We’ll have none of that sort of nonsense under Jo Negrini in a Croydon town centre where so much property is owned by the Whitgift Foundation, thank you very much.
The latest PSPO consultation closes to the public on Monday, October 15, with the council due to deliver its (probably already written) report to a cabinet meeting on November 20.
What is being proposed this time round is less wide-ranging than the previous PSPO proposal which was rejected in 2015.
Nonetheless, it is again a flawed proposal with the end-goal of providing powers which the police already possess.
If the council is to be believed, “A PSPO allows the council and the police to introduce new measures to reduce street drinking and anti-social behaviour which we believe will help to improve this public space for the wider community.
“The PSPO will replace the existing Town Centre Controlled Drinking Zone (also known as Designated Public Place Orders) which puts restrictions on street drinking.”
PSPOs were created by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (section 59) to, according to the council, “replace existing legislation and to introduce wider discretionary powers to deal with any particular nuisance or problem that is detrimental to the local community’s quality of life”.
The council says, “The legislation is intended to ensure that the law-abiding majority can use and enjoy public spaces, safe from anti-social behaviour.” And there we were thinking that that is what the police is supposed to do, after undergoing years of training and working under much strict regulation.
Under Croydon’s proposals, town centre bounty hunters will be able to issue, almost on a whim, fixed penalty notices and claim a fine of £80, or begin a prosecution, which could lead to a fine of up to £1,000.
Croydon-based charities who attempt to help the homeless are particularly worried about the proposals, as they fear the arbitrary manner in which the penalty notices might be issued against their clients, many of whom struggle to get together 80p, never mind £80.
There are obvious flaws with the proposals.
For example, someone judged to be indulging anti-social behaviour on one side of a road could face a penalty, yet if they are behaving in exactly the same manner on the other side of the street in what the council’s marketing brains like to call the “Restaurant Quarter”, they won’t be subject to the same Draconian treatment. The council has drawn the PSPO boundary down the middle of the road.
And there’s the fundamental idiocy at the heart of the consultation: the refusal to acknowledge that some aspect of the anti-social, noisy, boozed-up loutishness on our streets might have anything to do with pubs or night clubs.
The council asks the question, “How much of a problem, if at all, do you think each of the following are to those living, working, or visiting the proposed PSPO area in Croydon Town Centre?”, and gives “street drinking” as one of only two options in the multi-choice survey form.
Then the council adds this caveat: “This does not include pubs, or clubs or other licensed premises”.
From the very first question, the consultation itself is biased and skewed. Asking respondents whether they disagree with the proposed area – “If you said you disagree to the previous question, please say why and list any additional roads to be included” – the surveyor makes a clear assumption that no one might possibly think that the council’s proposed area is too large.
Elsewhere, in another display of bias toward the answers they desire, the survey-drafter demands an explanation from the public should they say that they oppose the PSPO. No such explanation is necessary if the respondent supports it.
And all this just because 1 in 4 people in a previous council survey said that they “strongly agree” that anti-social behaviour is a problem in the town centre. That survey size was hardly impressive, with just 510 answering in a borough where 360,000 people live.
Yet the council is using its findings to justify its proposals because “Drug-dealing/drug use, street drinking and anti-social behaviour were identified as the top three behaviours respondents supported the use of a PSPO to tackle”. Yet nothing in the seriously flawed survey makes any mention of measures to curb drug-dealing on our streets.
Mind you, the council isn’t proposing to do anything about what it describes as “religious preaching”, either, and that was one of the other things which some people mentioned as wanting to see out-lawed in a PSPO area.
But then, in 2017, do we really want the views of just 20 people to lead to an introduction of measures which impinge on freedom of speech in our town centre?
Two years ago, writing for Inside Croydon, Peter Underwood, the co-chair of the local Green Party, pin-pointed who he believed to be the real targets of any town centre PSPO.
“I suspect their target is those 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.”
This time around, the council has done little to publicise the latest survey for this pernicious policy. Perhaps they don’t want too many people to notice what it is trying to sneak through in their name.
The survey closes on Monday. Have your say on this latest preposterous council proposal by clicking here. You have to scroll all the way to the foot of the council web page to find the link to the consultation form.
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