Protecting the public from cyclists?

(This is a guest post by Duncan Dollimore from the Cycling UK).

As of 1 August cyclists could be fined for riding through that Mansfield town centre under new powers given to Councils to make Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs).

PSPOs were introduced over two years ago under the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, to enable councils to prohibit certain types of subversive behaviour within a geographically defined area.

Regrettably, some councils have used PSPOs as a geographically defined version of an ASBO to restrict the use of public space and criminalise behaviour not normally regarded as illegal. Such heinous activities include three or more under 16’s standing in a group in northern Nottinghamshire, chalk pavement art in Swindon, and of course the pernicious pastime which undermines the very fabric of our society: cycling.

Remember those halcyon days when cycling was an activity for which active travel, public health and leisure departments within your council had a remit? Not so in Mansfield it would seem, where cycling is an issue of public protection.

Councillor Mick Barton, portfolio holder for public protection, told local paper the Mansfield Chad that the new PSPO would “make Mansfield a more welcoming place”, and that Mansfield District Council (MDC) “want people to feel safe and secure in Mansfield”. Cyclists in Mansfield might now feel as welcome as the first day in Lent.

The statutory guidance to Councils on making PSPOs states that these orders are “designed to stop individuals or groups committing anti-social behaviour in a public space”. The legislation sets out certain requirements to make an order, but in essence if the restricted activity is cycling then cycling has to be an activity which has a detrimental effect on the quality of life in an area, the effect of which makes it unreasonable, and the restrictions imposed on cycling must be justified.

Adopting what Cycling UK believes is an unreasonable and disproportionate approach, MDC has banned cycling at all times of the day and night, from what it describes as a pedestrianised market area and various surrounding streets. There are no exemptions for people living in or commuting to and from the area, although cars and lorries have access at various times of the day and are only subject to partial restrictions.

A Google street view offers a fascinating insight into the minds of those who would seek to criminalise cycling whilst promoting motorised traffic in Mansfield town centre. As street view shows, the signs on the left indicating that cars with a permit can travel down Leeming Street at any time, as well as other vehicles (including lorries) for loading before 10.00am and after 4.00pm. But there is zero tolerance for cycling.

If you then take a Google journey down Leeming Street you pass a line of cars before reaching the market place, where you can turn left past yet more parked cars, and all the business and shops served by deliveries from commercial vehicles. This is not a small self-contained shopping centre area. It is Mansfield’s town centre, a public space with effectively an ASBO for everyone who cycles.

Following correspondence between Cycling UK and MDC over the last week, MDC has now suggested, incorrectly, that in fact cycling was already banned in the town centre before the making of the PSPO, despite the absence of any traffic regulation order or byelaw authorising this, by virtue of Section 72 of the Highways Act 1835.

Yet Section 72 covers what are now known in law as “footways” – or “pavements” in plain English – which are areas adjacent to roads provided purely for pedestrian use. As noted above, cars, vans and articulated lorries all have partial access to the relevant streets in central Mansfield. If these streets were “footways” (which they aren’t, as there is no separate “road” adjacent to them), then it wouldn’t just be cycling that was banned on them. Section 72 would also prohibit the driving or riding of every other type of vehicle, motorised or otherwise, at all times.

The Cyclists’ Defence Fund (CDF) is now considering the Mansfield case, and the possibility of a legal challenge to this and other PSPOs banning cycling. Similar orders have already been made to restrict or ban cycling in Gravesham, Walsall and Bedford.

If you are a cyclist in Mansfield who lives in, commutes to or travels by bike through Mansfield town centre, we need to hear from you urgently. Please contact the Cyclists’ Defence Fund or Cycling UK.

Similarly, if you hear of any consultations in your area involving proposals to restrict cycling via PSPOs, please let us know. It is easier to object before the orders are made than challenge after the event.

(This post is an edited version of a blog published on the Cycling UK website).