Councils are using new asbo-style by-laws to censure aspects of everyday life they deem messy, such as feeding pigeons or entering a retail car park after 6pm. Freedom campaigners are arguing that use of the laws is creating a patchwork of rules and regulations that hark back to the moralism of the 19th century, but council officials insist they are using the new laws properly.
By using “public space protections orders”, councils have deemed impermissible activities such as holding an open alcoholic beverage container, entering a tower block unless you are a visitor or a resident, or feeding pigeons in certain streets, The Times has reported. The sale of lucky charms or heather and playing music in public places both join the list of prohibited activities.
Ministers back the legislation, saying it is to be used for cracking down on anti-social behaviour such as spitting in the street or aggressive begging. Those caught behaving in an anti-social manner can be handed a fixed-penalty fine of £100.
The powers were first used by Colchester council chiefs in December, when they made it illegal for motorists to enter a retail car park in the area after 6pm unless they were using the shops or restaurants. The council intended to ban 500 boy racers who met at the car park.
But freedom campaigners argue that the new rules affect everyone’s quality of life, as the powers are so broad they can be used to ban anything the council dislikes.
“The result is a patchwork of criminal law where something is illegal in one town but not in the next, or in one street, but not in the next,” said Josie Appleton of the Manifesto Club. “These orders will turn town and city centres into no-go zones for homeless people, buskers, old ladies feeding pigeons or anyone else who the council views as messy. This looks like a return to the meddling and moralism of 19th-century bylaws.”
However, a spokesman for the the Local Government Association denied that the rules were introducing bizarre new criminal offences, saying: “Anti-social behaviour offences such as aggressive begging, public drinking or the sale of legal highs are far from bizarre. For communities affected they are serious issues.”