New bill threatens public’s rights to open spaces and paths

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We are alarmed that the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which is to have its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday (10 June), could make trespass a criminal offence in public places in England.

The Bill will enable a local authority to make a Public Spaces Protection Order on a public place if it is satisfied, on reasonable grounds, that two conditions are met. In summary, these are that activities carried on in a public place have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of local people and that these activities are unreasonable. The order may include a public highway.

There is nothing in the Bill to stop a local authority from banning the public completely from land which is subject to a Public Spaces Protection Order. The new law will make breach of an order a criminal offence, which means that trespass, normally a civil offence, could become a crime. It could unfairly restrict the public’s rights to enjoy paths and open spaces.

We are concerned that (1) there is no definition of ‘reasonable’, (2) the order could be applied to land with public rights of access (common land and village greens for instance); (3) the authority is not required to advertise its intentions; (4) in the case of a highway the authority is only required ‘to consider’ the availability of an alternative route, local people could lose valuable, traffic-free shortcuts; (5) the order may endure for up to three years, and (6) those allowed to challenge an order in the high court are strictly limited.

While we appreciate that there are instances where anti-social behaviour must be curbed, we have called on MPs to amend the bill to ameliorate its vicious effect on the public. We propose the following.

• Land with a public right of access should be excluded from the Public Spaces Protection Orders.

• There should be a prescribed list of organisations to be consulted whenever an order is proposed.

• If there are objectors to an order, there should be a public hearing or public inquiry so the plan can be independently examined.

• In the case of public highways, the authority should be required to find an alternative route: if there is none, the order should not be made. Otherwise important community routes could be lost.

• The order should be reviewed after six months, not three years. There should be no restriction on who can challenge an order in the high court.

We have called on MPs to seek amendments to the Bill to reduce its damaging effects on the public.

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