10 things you could do in 2016 that you can't do now - thanks to bizarre new laws


Ah 2016 – it giveth and it taketh away.

Who are we kidding? It may have given us a fancy new £5 note, but otherwise it basically just took.

But what you may have missed are the little-known powers which have seen councils quietly outlawing harmless and previously totally legal activities with increasing frequency over the last 12 months.

Public Space Protection Orders, or PSPOs, were created in 2014 – but they’ve really come into their own this year. They let councils ban any activity they claim has a “detrimental effect” on residents’ quality of life. Anyone who breaches them faces an on-the-spot fine of up to £100, or a criminal record and a £1,000 penalty if they don't pay.

These powers are so ludicrously broad that they’re ripe for abuse and misuse. Sometimes they’re so stupid they’re laughable – but often their impact is far more serious and cruel.

As 2016 comes to a close, here are 10 things you just can’t do anymore:

1. Hang out with friends

Bassetlaw District Council has banned under-16s from gathering in groups of three or more if any one of them is “causing annoyance”, unless with an adult.

That’s just you and two friends. And what counts as annoying? Teens can’t be teens in parts of Bassetlaw anymore – unless they’ve got money to burn or fancy a quick route to a criminal record.

Worse still is Swadlincote Town Centre’s ban on loitering on your own or in a group if causing or likely to cause antisocial behaviour. How do enforcement officers know you’re “likely to cause” antisocial behaviour – that special glint in your eye?

2. Stay out late

A curfew for minors in Kettering means they have to be indoors between 11pm and 6am. That’s New Year’s Eve sorted then.

3. Be homeless

Shelter has estimated there are now 250,000 homeless people in England. But rather than help them, councils up and down the country have been abusing these powers to criminalise the most vulnerable people in their areas.

This year Cherwell, Gravesham and Wrexham councils have all banned rough sleeping in one in form or another.

Cherwell even pushed ahead with a ban in Banbury despite Thames Valley Police only receiving six reports of rough sleeping between July 2014 and February 2016. Not exactly evidence of a detrimental effect on others.

Slapping the poorest in society with fines they can’t possibly afford just traps them in a spiral of debt and fast-tracks them into the criminal justice system. PSPOs are an easy way to push poverty out of sight – but they’re incapable of giving help or support.

4. Nap in your car

Gravesham’s ban on lying down or sleeping in any public place in Gravesend Town Centre also applies to vehicles. It doesn’t matter when or for how long.

This has created a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario for responsible drivers who’d rather pull over for a nap when tired than risk life and limb (their own and others’) on the road.

5. Let out your inner hero

Plenty of superhero blockbusters again in 2016 – but don’t try it at home – or at least not in Bulwell in Nottingham.

The City Council has banned climbing. Kiss goodbye to childhood memories of conquering big trees. And if your cat gets stuck on a high branch – leave it there.

6. Sunbathe

In a boon for local sunbed salons, Gravesham’s lying down PSPO covers Woodlands Park – so no topping up your tan naturally until summer 2019.

7. Exercise

Kettering Borough Council has also criminalised using a bicycle, scooter or “similar wheeled conveyance” in a manner likely to cause “nuisance, alarm or distress”.

The PSPO provides a surprisingly scientific definition of “scooter”, but doesn’t help residents out with “nuisance, alarm or distress”, potentially leaving them unsure of when they’re at risk of breaking the law. Best not to bother at all.

8. Swear

Salford Council came in for ridicule this year when it emerged they’d outlawed swearing in an area right next to Old Trafford – and Bassetlaw and Kettering have also both banned shouting and swearing in certain areas.

Major freedom of speech issues aside, how do we know what counts as swearing in the councils’ books? Do they break the new law if they tell us?

9. Do anything

Bassetlaw and Teignbridge councils have criminalised everything.

Both have made it an offence to do anything causing “annoyance” in areas covered by their PSPOs – meaning just about anything a council officer personally deems “annoying” could be illegal on any given day.

10. Let this go on

PSPOs have chipped away at our freedom in 2016 – and it looks like they’re set to do the same next year.

Enfield, Newcastle and Rushcliffe are currently considering plans to criminalise homelessness. Sunderland City Council wants to ban rummaging through bins for things – like food. And there are many more similar proposals in the offing.

Liberty is campaigning for the Government to scrap PSPOs entirely. But until they do, any local authority will be able to create them. And they will.

So in 2017, please help drag this cruel trend into the light – if we make clear we won’t stand for criminalisation of the poorest in society and the erosion of our rights, we can defeat PSPOs.

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