Bans of “unacceptable behaviours” by the Oxford City Council in February 2016, which garnered controversy for their ‘demonisation’ of homeless people, have not been renewed.
A public consultation has been launched instead, which will gather opinion about behaviours people consider to be unacceptable in the city centre. This will create a new set of rules to be released in 2020.
The City Centre Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) from 2016 aimed to deter anti-social behaviour. It outlawed eight activities in public spaces, including “aggressive begging”, “inappropriate use of public toilets”, and drinking alcohol.
Opponents told the Oxford Mail that the PSPO could “criminalise” and “demonise” rough sleepers. This controversy led to Oxford City Council releasing a statement that defended the PSPO, saying that there were no “homeless fines”.
This is in the context of widespread backlash against PSPOs in 60 local authorities. A landmark high court case is currently determining whether fines for begging from PSPOs unfairly target home- less people.
Over three years, the PSPO was used by the council to give almost 1000 warnings. However, only five £100 fixed penalty notices were given out, four of which were to people selling goods without permission. “Advice” was given to people begging 96 times, but no one was fined or prosecuted.
A spokesperson for the council said: “The impact of the Order is still being felt and many of the anti-social behaviours have not returned.
“There is, for example, a reduction in people aggressively beg- ging, Oxford no longer gets large numbers of street peddlers during St Giles’ Fun Fair, and busking is largely self-regulating through the current voluntary Code of Conduct, which is to be reviewed in 2020.”
The new consultation is a part of the City Centre Vision for 2020. The consultation will run until January. It is an online quiz which asks residents and visitors about problems such as dog control, littering, begging, graffiti, and threatening behaviour.
The Oxford City Council has already held focus groups of residents, business owners, and people accessing homeless services, which informed the questions on the quiz.
A spokesperson for the City Council said: “The resident group raised concerns about pickpocketing, bicycle thefts, drunk and rowdy behaviour in Park End Street and George Street, and tourist coaches sitting with their engines running; the business group raised concerns about rogue tour guides, pick pocketing, drunk and rowdy behaviour in George Street, and noisy street entertainers.
“The main concern of people accessing homelessness services in the city was safety. They said that they did not perceive the city centre streets to be a safe place to sleep, and felt particularly threatened by those leaving the pubs under the influence of alcohol who can abuse them, damage their property or physically assault them.”
Councillor Mary Clarkson, Cabinet Member for Culture and City Centre said: “Over the coming months we will be consulting residents on the future of every aspect of the city centre, but we are starting with the behaviours that people think are acceptable and unacceptable. So whether you are a local resident, a city centre business owner, or just a visitor to our beautiful city centre, please take part in the consultation.”
This is a welcome change for Councillor Shaista Aziz, co-founder of the Labour Homelessness Campaign, who told Cherwell: “As more councils consult on the PSPOs, with the intention of gaining the power to criminalise behaviour that is not normally criminal, many on the streets believe these powers penalise them further for being homeless. I welcome the fact that PSPOs won’t be renewed in the city centre and I’m very pleased that the council is acknowledging the intense vulnerability people rough sleeping in Oxford face to being victims of abuse and violence.”