At an Oxford City Council meeting on Friday 15th October, the Executive Board agreed upon revisions to its City Centre Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) which criminalise “aggressive begging”.
The Order is intended to target “anti-social behaviour” within the City Centre, extending its definition of anti-social behaviour to include begging near cash machines or in “any manner perceived to be aggressive”.
Following these new measures, homeless people and street entertainers face fines and prosecution if they are found to have acted aggressively. Council officials will now have the right to report criminalised behaviour to the police and to issue immediate penalties of up to £100. This can lead to subsequent prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000 on conviction.
The City Council states that the new PSPO is a response to concerns and complaints from tourists, students, and others employed in the city of Oxford. When contacted for comment by Cherwell, Councillor Dee Sinclair said, “Residents have told me that they feel intimidated and even scared by some of the behaviours that are currently happening in the city centre.
“We take these reports very seriously but until now have had few powers to take action. The PSPO gives us those powers, and people should be reassured that Oxford will now be a safer and more welcoming place for everyone.”
In an online consultation questionnaire leading up to the City Council meeting, 54 per cent of 549 respondents answered “no” in response to the question, “Should Oxford City Council seek to prohibit this activity [persistent begging] through a City Centre Public Spaces Protection Order.”
The Council’s Chief Executive Peter Sloman claims the Order takes preventative measures to “deter anti-social behaviour” and “connect people with help and support”. The PSPO is in legal accordance with the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act of 2014.
The new regulations also restrict sleeping in toilets, urinating in public, and refusing to forfeit containers of alcohol in public when asked by police. Leash laws, which require all dogs in public spaces in the city centre to be on leads, have been established by the Council’s Order, as well as a limit to the number of dogs which can be walked by the homeless.
An original version of the current PSPO was first proposed by the council in June, but was scheduled for revision following threats of legal action from the civil liberties and human rights organization Liberty. At the time, the group claimed the proposals violated basic human rights protected under the 1998 Human Rights Act, arguing the proposals were not the “least intrusive means” of ensuring safe public spaces in Oxford.
The Board responded directly to Liberty’s claims in Friday’s meeting, arguing the revised Order is not intrusive because it limits restrictions on begging to “aggressive” behaviour. In its agenda supplement, the Board defended its policy on the grounds that there is a “detrimental effect” to aggressive begging and “remaining in a public toilet without reasonable excuse”.
Christopher Archibald, a second-year English student at Christ Church, told Cherwell, “I have never experienced aggressive begging, but maybe the council should try to solve the problem rather than covering up its symptoms.”