Oxford Council takes its character-robbing PSPOs down to the river

Oxford City Council is continuing its campaign to squeeze spontaneous social life and character out of the city with a new PSPO, this time targeting the city’s waterways.

The order will prohibit mooring without permission of the landowner, storing items on the bank without permission of the landowner, smoke or noise pollution which causes annoyance to others; it will also give council officers powers to confiscate alcohol and to order people to put their dogs on leads.

In its evidence, the council cited the 95 reported crimes that had occurred on the waterways in 19 months, including arson, burglary from boathouses, assault, drug dealing, and public order offences. However, there are already laws against these. The PSPO will not target criminal offences but create a series of new offences, to give the council and police more latitude to move people on from the river bank or to order them to do this or that.

The waterways of Oxford are hardly a den of criminal iniquity – they are calm, pleasant, albeit a little ramshackle, which is nice. These are spaces people live: they set up tables next to their boats, drink alcohol on their boats in the evening, heat the boats with wood stoves, in one case selling quality cheeses from a boat window. Some of these may be moored illegally, which as one boater explained is because there are not sufficient mooring sites in the city: ‘Most would be happy to pay if there were more mooring sites.’

But rather than provide more mooring sites, the council introduces a new order to allow them to move people on at a stroke. The council says that it is introducing the PSPO to ‘make enforcement easier and less expensive’. It is a measure in the interests of law-enforcing authorities, to allow them to do what they want to do. As with the Oxford city centre PSPO, the measure will do nothing to target crime, but it will be very successful at squeezing elements of character and spontaneity out of city life.

In a letter to the Oxford Mail, Mr Artwell, from Barton, Oxford, says that the the PSPO ‘has become the city council’s solution to the problems of city living’. The council’s answer to every problem or dispute is to extend their own powers to make enforcement ‘easier’. Mr Artwell concludes that ‘PSPOs undermine the legal notion of “Innocent until proven guilty by a Jury (or Court) of your peers”. The people of Oxford should also be very concerned with the increase use of PSPO because it changes our status in the courts.’

He is quite right. This order should be steadfastly opposed by boaters and non-boaters alike.