Free running is not a sport, not a crime

Horsham Council has banned free running in its town centre, meaning that people could be fined or prosecuted for such activities as jumping over bollards or vaulting walls.

The cabinet member for community and wellbeing said that free running counted among the ‘anti-social’ acts that were an ‘issue for the local community’.

Yet free running (or parkour) is presumably being practiced by some members of the local community. It is a recognised sport and art form, coming with a high degree of self-discipline and a particular way of viewing the urban space. A Horsham 17-year-old free runner said that they had ‘utmost respect for the community and property’: ‘We are respectful to those around us and always make sure that the public’s safety is our number one concern.’

The cabinet member claims that a free runner damaged someone’s roof, but others dispute that this damage was related to free running. It seems that authorities are failing to distinguish between criminal activities, and public sporting/artistic activities. All forms of public actions are lumped together as ‘anti-social’. If there is a complaint about an activity, rather than seek to punish an isolated criminal act or to resolve disputes amicably, councils increasingly simply issue a blanket ban.

This measure was passed against opposition from several councillors, one of whom said that the PSPO was ‘rather woolly in many ways’ and the council was in danger of being labelled the ‘fun police’; another disputed that there was enough evidence showing that free running was having a ‘detrimental’ effect.

These objections show that the use of PSPOs is subject to debate and conflict within councils: not everyone wants to reach for busybody measures, and there are freedom lovers within councils as without. We can only hope that they prevail in this case.

(If anyone is a free runner in Horsham, and wants to challenge this measure, do get in touch.)