Doncaster is consulting on a vague, meaningless and potentially very repressive PSPO. It would target buskers and homeless people, charity collectors, as well as anyone who chooses to ‘stand around’ in the town centre.
The prohibitions are below. Each of these prohibitions would be a criminal offence, punished by a 100 pound fine or prosecution:
‘Requesting money, donations or goods, including through placing of hats, clothing or containers’ – This would prohibit all busking, as well as begging, and charity collecting of all kinds.
‘Returning to the Town Centre within 24 hours after being requested to leave by an authorised officer due to them behaving in a manner causing or likely to cause harassment, alarm, distress, nuisance or annoyance’ – This would give council officers dispersal powers, and the right to deprive people of their freedom of movement for 24 hours. Dispersal powers are highly problematic when used by the police, under far stricter conditions than these: it would be very worrying indeed for any council employee to have the rights to bar members of the public from the town centre.
‘Congregating in a group of three or more people and behave in a manner causing or likely to cause harassment, alarm, distress, nuisance or annoyance to any person within the Town Centre’ – This is an incredibly vague condition, especially since it will be interpreted on the say-so of council officers and will not pass through a court of law.
‘Consuming alcohol other than at licensed premises or being in possession of any opened vessel containing alcohol in any public place in the Town Centre’ – This would criminalise a homeless person having a drink on a bench, as well as anyone carrying an opened bottle of alcohol through a public space.
‘Ingest, inhale, inject, smoke or otherwise use intoxicating substances within the Town Centre or possess any item that can be used to assist in the taking of intoxicating substances’ – This measure fails to exempt tea, coffee and prescription items from the definition of ‘intoxicating substances’. The definition of intoxicating substances is substances which have a stimulatory or depressive effect on the central nervous system. Doncaster would be banning tea and coffee.
‘Camping or sleeping overnight with or without a tent, or using a vehicle, caravan or any other structure in a public place’ – This would criminalise rough sleeping as a whole in the town centre. A homeless person could be fined on the first night they slept out in a public space. This punitive approach makes social destitution into a criminal offence.
‘Making approaches to people with the intention of entering into any arrangements which involve people making future payments for the benefit of charity, access to credit or other purposes – unless authorised by the Council’ – This criminalises all unauthorised charity collection, which means that the council would control who can and cannot collect in public spaces.
‘Loitering, standing around, touch or interfere with any parking equipment, in the Town Centre’ – This clause is extremely vague and has a confusing grammatical construction. It would criminalise anybody ‘standing around’ in the town centre, which is akin to criminalising anybody doing anything except marching, head down, from shop to shop. One hopes that in any public place there would be people standing around, talking or watching the world go by. The council would be criminalising ordinary sociability.