An Oxford City Council scrutiny committee on Monday confirmed that land owned by Oxford University will not be exempt from the controversial new Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO). The land affected includes University Parks, the University Science Area and the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter.
The measures, which apply to Oxford’s city centre, make aggressive or persistent begging, busking and other activities punishable by a £100 council fine, or a £150 fine at a magistrates’ court. At the meeting, the Scrutiny Committee narrowly voted to leave the PSPO boundaries unchanged. After a 45-minute debate, the proposal to exclude university land was met with a vote of 5 in favour and 7 not in favour.
This is in spite of the University’s efforts to maintain its land as exempt from the measures. Oxford, much of whose land lies in the area affected in the city centre, had objected to the controversial new legislation last month. It requested that land it owns which is commonly used by the public be exempt from the new rules, stating that the conditions for imposing a PSPO on University land are not met.
The conditions that have to be met, in order for the local authority to have the power to introduce a PSPO, are that activities detrimental to the quality of life in the area are, or are likely to be, carried out in the space in question, and that said activities are persistent in nature, justifying the use of legal restrictions.
In a letter dated October 21st, the University’s Director of Estates, Paul Goffin, wrote: “The sites are managed by University employees from the Parks Department, Facilities Management and Security Services. None of these teams are aware of any activities which have been or are being carried on or within the University’s land which have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality.
“The University also considers that the land is appropriately managed at present by on-site teams who respond rapidly to any issues and have robust procedures in place to prevent detrimental activities taking place within the University’s property.”
He continued: “If the City Council has concerns about the potential for detrimental activities to take place on University owned sites in the future, we will be happy to provide the City Council with appropriate details of our security management plans for our sites.”
PSPOs were introduced under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act of 2014. They give local authority the power to impose legal conditions or restrictions in a specific target area, in an effort to reduce anti-social behaviour. The civil rights group Liberty has been one of many groups to criticise PSPOs. Among other misgivings, it has been suggested that PSPOs could criminalise being homeless.
Last month campaign groups protested in the centre of Oxford against the Council’s proposal to introduce the PSPO. The movement was led by comedian and political activist Mark Thomas, who contended that beggars criminalised by the legislation would be unable to pay the fine or the court charges, condemning them to a “path of indebtedness and exclusion”. However, it was to no avail, as the council approved the measures on 15th October.
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