Aylesbury Vale District Council has been praised by human rights organisation Liberty after abandoning plans to criminalise ‘aggressive’ begging in the town centre.
It comes as the council is set to introduce new powers to crack down on anti-social behaviour in the town which could come into force within months.
The Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) seeks to to address five ‘behaviours that have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the town centre and are considered persistent and continuing’, according to Aylesbury Vale District Council.
> Public consumption of alcohol or having an open container of alcohol
> Public urination or defecation
> Aggressive or intimidating behaviour
> Control of dogs
> The unauthorised parking of motor vehicles on Kingsbury and Market Square.
AVDC abandoned plans to include ‘aggressive or intimidating begging’ in the order after several authorities which did so attracted criticism from the likes of Liberty.
The human rights organisation opposed PSPOs when they were introduced by the government in 2014, because ‘they are too widely drawn, with vague definitions of what can be criminalised, and carry disproportionately punitive sanctions’.
Failure to comply with the order can result in a fixed penalty notice of up to £100, or a summary conviction.
Peter Seal, the council’s licensing boss, said PSPOs give public bodies the power to tackle anti-social behaviour which might not be specifically covered by other laws.
“Even public urination – you would think this would be clearly against the law, but at the moment it would be under public order or indecency legislation. It is all a bit messy, there is not a specific law making it unlawful. PSPOs neaten things up.”
Mr Seal admitted that using PSPOs to try and stop drivers parking on the Market Square cobbles and Kingsbury was ‘probably the most controversial’ part of the council’s plans.
But he said: “The only legal redress to deal with that [currently] is trespass so the parking attendants have no powers to deal with it on these public realms.”
Mr Seal stressed that enforcement of the PSPO, which was agreed by this week’s licensing committee but still needs full approval, would not be solely down to the police.
“It is not police led. Dog fouling and parking are issues we don’t expect the police to deal with – it would be down to parking enforcement and environmental health.”
“Police will have the confidence to engage with people if they are publicly drinking. It is about setting the climate and saying these behaviours are unacceptable.
“I don’t see it as some sort of over-zealous enforcement mechanism, it is a way to engage with people about anti-social behaviour.”
Other councils using PSPOs have employed ‘civic enforcement officers’ who ensure it is adhered to and issue fines. Mr Seal said AVDC currently had no plans to follow suit, but that ‘potentially, with the right experience and training’ officers could be introduced in the future.
Rosie Brighouse, legal officer for Liberty, said: “Liberty is delighted the council has seen sense and scrapped their plans to use these powers against begging, which would have criminalised the town’s most vulnerable people.
“Begging is the result of poverty, and PSPOs do nothing whatsoever to ease hardship – they simply fast-track so-called offenders into the criminal justice system.
“We strongly advise any authorities considering similar proposals to follow Aylesbury Vale District Council’s example and ditch any similarly misguided plans.”