New plans to ban “aggressive begging”, anti-social public alcohol consumption and other “nuisance behaviors” in Oxford centre were approved by the Council last week.
Known as a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), it will cover a number of persistent activities from intrusive busking and cycling in restricted areas, to aggressive begging and public defecation.
Contravening the new measures could result in fines of £100.
The initial PSPO proposal had been criticized by groups like Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties) and, Oxford Union group, On Your Doorstep.
The motivation for the new order was outlined by Councillor Dee Sinclair, Board Member for Crime, Community Safety and Licensing who said: “Residents have told me that they feel intimidated and even scared by some of the behaviours that are currently happening in the city centre.
“We take these reports very seriously but until now have had few powers to take action. The PSPO gives us those powers, and people should be reassured that Oxford will now be a safer and more welcoming place for everyone.”
The PSPO report also highlighted the large number of tourists that routinely visit the city centre and the ineffectiveness of existing measures to tackle much anti-social behaviour.
This decision follows earlier controversy over the proposed PSPO in June. UK human rights group Liberty had challenged an earlier version of the order with a detailed legal opinion, calling it “unlawful”. Although the current version includes a number of changes based on these criticisms, the City Executive Board states: “It is not accepted that the previous prohibitions were incapable of being lawfully adopted” and “remaining in a public toilet without reasonable excuse is still a recommended prohibition”.
In response to the decision last week Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer at Liberty, said: “While we’re pleased with the Council’s concessions, it shouldn’t have taken Liberty and other campaigners to force them to see how draconian their initial proposals were – they should never have been considered in the first place. However, we remain deeply concerned that the PSPO will criminalise the city’s most vulnerable, and are considering whether it can be challenged it in court.”
The Council has stated that it does not intend to fine individuals as first resort. Persistent offenders will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, some of which may be fined, whereas others could be referred to the Magistrates’ Court where they are likely to be passed on to other support services.
The order was preceded by an extensive eight week public consultation. This indicated that the majority of respondents had not been adversely affected by persistent begging and other features of the PSPO.
Previously, in May, buskers in Oxford had staged a musical protest to oppose the PSPO. Asked to comment on council’s recent decision, a local busker, who asked not to be named, said he was “passive” to the plan as it was unlikely to affect him.