Comment: PSPOs – tackling disorder or more authoritarian ‘big brother’?


Cast your mind back a few weeks and you may recall the Dispatch reporting that Leeds City Council is currently consulting on the possible introduction of 18 Public Space Protection Orders, or PSPOs, writes John Baron.

The plans aim to tackle problems with public drinking and anti-social behaviour in 18 different parts the city – including Armley, Farsley and Pudsey. And in Armley, they tackle problems with waste disposal, especially putting your bins out and taking them back in at the right time

Essentially, PSPOs are a bit like place-based ASBOs – they restrict the types of behaviour that are seen as acceptable in public space (such as on-street drinking – and if you violate them, you can be fined up to £100 or even £1,000.

Armley, in particular, has well-documented problems with street drinking and there have been widespread calls amongst local residents to clamp down on the problem as people feel intimidated by the men who sit or stand in groups in the Town Street area.

Binge drinking is a public health issue and the impact it has on communities – like Armley – is considerable.

I also know youths drinking in Pudsey town centre causes an atmosphere which some find so unpleasant they avoid the area entirely (particularly around the bus station) on an evening. Vandalism linked to drinking is a problem – the market has been targeted several times in the past month alone.

The rules around collecting bins are geared towards ensuring bins aren’t left out too long, cluttering streets. Basically they’re there to try tidy the area up.

The order says bins should not be put out “other than after 6pm the night before collection is due, and returned inside the boundary of the relevant premises no later than 9pm on the day of collection”.

Why all the change?

In a nutshell changes introduced under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime & Policing Act, 2014, which requires that all local authorities reconsider whether the existing Designated Public Place Orders (DPPOs) they have in place be withdrawn or replaced by new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs).

They were introduced as a specific response to tackle problems which have occurred from individuals and groups gathering in certain locations that were ‘resulting in a negative impact’ on local residents.

Following a review by Leeds City Council and partners such as the police, it has been proposed that all 18 DPPOs currently in operation be continued and replaced by PSPOs.

All sounds OK? We all want to be able to walk around without feeling intimidated, right?

‘A beady eye on behaviour’

But I was reading a thought-providing piece by Becky Sumerling headed ‘a beady eye on behaviour’ .  Sumerling describes herself as a PhD student at the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds Uni with interests in play, urbanism and social change.

She argues ‘the real concern with these PSPOs is what they represent: a persistent, creeping and worrying shift toward the securitisation of public space, and the control of behaviour within it’.

And she asks the question:

Can urban dwellers really not be trusted to look after each other and to share public space convivially, without the need for authoritarian intervention?

I’d argue in terms of the street drinking and the impact that has on other people avoiding places like Town Street and the impact on local business, no they can’t in this instance.

Regarding the issue of Armley’s bins, Sumerling is on stronger ground. She adds:

“It is an offence if you fail to comply with these rules and you could be fined. What if someone is away, or forgets because they have complex family matters to deal with? There are obviously reasons for attaching this particular clause to the orders that cover these … areas. We need transparency as part of the process, to enable people to make an informed response to the consultation.

“It seems clear that punitive measures like those outlined in the PSPOs will unfairly affect the vulnerable and homeless. It’s important to remember that one person’s public space is another person’s private space. With homelessness on the rise across the UK, PSPOs pose a real risk to people living on the streets, who may be criminalised and lumped with fines that they simply can’t pay.”

Sumerling argues the question boils down to this:

Who is the city for, and who is meant to benefit from the impacts of PSPOs?

“PSPOs are legislative means of restricting people’s right to behave freely in public space. The Council’s proposal to impose these orders is part of a bigger and longer-term plan to ‘clean up the city’ – but in a way that fits with a certain idealised image, concocted by people in power and definitively not deliberated with the city’s citizens.”

Powerful stuff, if you subscribe to Sumerling’s ideology.

The ever-Liberal Guardian also got in on the act. A 2015 article labelled PSPOs ‘the new control orders threatening our public spaces’. It also labelled them ‘a geographically defined version of asbos that could severely restrict people’s freedoms in urban spaces’ and concluded:

“If, following the German sociologist Jürgen Habermas, the public sphere is where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and thus influence political action, then introduction of spatial protection orders – like the construction of privately owned public spaces – is a threat to the public sphere wherever they curtail our ability to do so.”

Leeds City Council’s take

Leeds City Council feels the moves are necessary for public safety.

Councillor Deborah Coupar, Leeds City Council’s executive board member for communities, said:

“Having looked at the evidence I can see merit in replacing our 18 DPPOs with PSPOs. This will form part of our overall strategy and continued work to tackle anti-social behaviour in public places where problems exist.”

They’re encouraging people to take part in the consultation.

Sweeping problems away

For me, as a West Leeds resident, the introduction of PSPOs to reduce street drinking  are necessary, as long as they’re backed up by a comprehensive programme of support for the people who have alcohol issues.

You can’t just sweep people up from the streets and pack them away, out of view, and not try to deal with the issues of alcohol addiction. The circle that leads to alcohol problems needs to be broken and PSPOs by themselves won’t do that.

That said, Sumerling’s wider points on the perceived dangers of PSPOs have some merit.

The timings of the bins in Armley seems to be heavy handed. Couldn’t this be achieved by better educating people about taking pride in their community and tackling all the issues connected to that?

Other councils have tried to ban rough sleeping, ensure all dogs must be on leads in parks and prohibiting people under the age of 21 from entering a specific tower block, Foresters Tower. Bassetlaw District Council has created a PSPO that prohibits “under 16 year olds … gathering in groups of three or more”.

Where will it end in Leeds?

The consultation into PSPOs can be found here. It runs until July 16.









Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.