New law could ban public from open spaces and paths

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We have called on Peers to challenge provisions in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill which empower local authorities to restrict people’s use of public spaces in England. The Bill has its second reading in the House of Lords on 29 October.

The Bill enables a local authority to make a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) if it is satisfied that activities carried on in a public place have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of local people and that those activities are unreasonable. The order may include an open space or public highway.

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

The society is particularly concerned that the order could be applied to land with public rights of access (such as common land and village greens) and the authority is not required to advertise its intentions. In the case of a public highway the authority is only required ‘to consider’ the availability of an alternative route and to consult those whom it considers appropriate. The order may endure for up to three years.

While we appreciate that there are instances where anti-social behaviour must be curbed, we feel that the bill is oppressive and far in excess of what is needed to address anti-social behaviour. We have called on the Lords to amend the bill to ameliorate its potentially vicious effect on the public. We should like to see the following changes.

Land with a public right of access should be excluded from the PSPOs. There should be a prescribed list of organisations to be consulted whenever an order is proposed, as already occurs for public-path changes. 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. The order should be reviewed after six months, not three years.

The bill badly needs amending to make it acceptable.

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