Shropshire Council defends ‘busybody’ fines
Shropshire Council has defended new fines designed to clean up Shrewsbury town centre after they were described as "busybody" powers.
The authority says the public space protection order (PSPO) for Shrewsbury, which came into force on August 1, is aimed at at making the town centre more pleasant, and to deal with the anti-social behaviour.
However, civil liberties organisation the Manifesto Group said councils have accelerated their use of "busybody" powers to criminalise acts such as swearing, dog walking and busking in public spaces.
The crackdown has targeted people swearing, loitering, leafleting, skateboarding, sleeping rough and spitting.
The new Shrewsbury order, which can result in fines of up to £75, covers people urinating, defecating, refusing to stop drinking alcohol, or leaving belongings in the town centre
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tim Clement-Jones said the use of PSPOs is "utterly alarming" and that the powers are restricting freedom of expression "in an unprecedented way".
Introduced in 2014, PSPOs let local authorities ban behaviour deemed to have a "detrimental effect" on "quality of life", with fines and prosecutions for violations.
Manifesto Club director Josie Appleton said the orders are particularly harsh on the homeless, adding that those banning rough sleeping, bin-raking and begging were turning "social destitution into a sort of criminality".
Big Issue chief executive Stephen Robertson said expanding definitions of anti-social behaviour risk "stigmatising" rough sleepers further.
Ms Appleton said: "Councils were at first slow to use PSPOs, but now the powers are being whipped out in response to a wide variety of local disputes or problems.
"The result is a patchwork of vague, absurd criminal law, which people do not understand and which cannot be enforced with any consistency."
However, Frances Darling, trading standards & licensing operations manager, public health, at Shropshire Council said the criticism of the orders is "extremely unhelpful".
The officer said the order had also been introduced in part due to concerns of town-centre businesses.
She said: "Shropshire Council’s first public spaces protection order (PSPO) comes into effect in response to growing concerns and evidence that anti-social behaviour within Shrewsbury town centre is affecting local businesses, residents, visitors and local agencies.
"The council finds references to ‘busybody’ powers, a ‘blank cheque’ for arbitrary use of power, allegations that the powers are restricting freedom of expression ‘in an unprecedented way’ and resulting in ‘a patchwork of vague, absurd criminal law, which people do not understand and which cannot be enforced with any consistency’ as extremely unhelpful.
"We have taken care to ensure the conditions in the PSPO are directly linked to evidence of problems in Shrewsbury Town Centre that are detrimental to the local community’s quality of life."