Oxford City Council to seek public views on city centre behaviours

Published: Wednesday, 27th February 2019

Oxford City Council is set to ask residents, businesses and visitors about the kind of behaviours they believe are acceptable or unacceptable within the city centre.

The planned engagement will happen before deciding whether or not the city centre Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) needs to be renewed; and if so, whether this should be as a whole, in part, or if it should be adapted.

The PSPO, which came into force on the 1 February 2016, covered eight behaviours that were prohibited from the city centre, but expired on 31 January 2019.

The City Council remains committed to reducing antisocial behaviour and building stronger cohesive communities. Working jointly with Thames Valley Police, Oxfordshire County Council and the Turning Point charity, last year we launched a task force to tackle the open drugs market across the city.

Now the City Council is set to ask local people which behaviours they think should not be acceptable within the city centre and what rights and responsibilities they expect of their fellow citizens. The engagement will include focus groups and surveys of residents, visitors, businesses, and people with lived experience of homelessness.

This information will then be used to make a decision about what might be included in proposals for an updated PSPO. These would be subject to a full public consultation and a final decision by Council members.

The PSPO restricts eight anti-social behaviours from Oxford city centre, including cycling in Cornmarket Street and Queen Street, inappropriate use of public toilets, defecation and urination in public spaces, loud noise and obstruction of highway by street entertainers, aggressive begging, illegal street trading, alcohol consumption, and control of dogs.

The principle of prevention has been at the centre of the way in which the PSPO has been applied, and where intervention is still required the City Council Corporate Enforcement Policy requires that officers “seek to resolve cases at the lowest level of intervention appropriate to the case”.

Of the nearly 1,000 incidents that warranted intervention and advice over a three year period, it was deemed necessary to follow this up with enforcement action on six occasions: five fixed penalty notices (four for trading as a peddler and one for somebody in charge of a dog within a restricted area breaching the terms of the Order) and one prosecution for remaining in a public toilet without reasonable excuse.

By allowing the PSPO’s expiry, the Council is able to appraise whether real-world behavioural change is in fact dependent upon an Order being in place for each of the prohibitions contained within it. A measure of success for the Order in relation to each prohibition is its effectiveness at changing behaviour from that which is legally deemed anti-social in order that everyone can enjoy the highest quality of life and work

Councillor Tom Hayes, City Council Board Member for Safer Greener Environment, said: “Everyone has a right to feel safe in Oxford. I have asked for this additional consultation to listen to people’s views about what the City Council should be doing to have a safe city centre. If residents, businesses, and visitors say they do not want the Council to have these powers, we won’t seek to renew them.

“Everyone has a right to be treated with dignity and compassion. A national homelessness tragedy is playing out on our streets, and we’re doing all we can to end the need for anyone to sleep rough. We want all rough sleepers to access services, so I urge everyone with concerns about PSPOs to accurately represent the true situation – Oxford City Council has not, will not, and never will criminalise rough sleeping.”

Oxford City Council has issued 960 FAQ sheets offering advice to people breaching the City Centre PSPO:

 

2016

2017

2018

Grand Total

Cycling in Cornmarket Street and Queen Street

232

95

332

659

Illegal street trading

22

70

62

154

Aggressive begging

15

26

55

96

Alcohol consumption

3

6

9

18

Loud noise and obstruction of highway by street entertainers

6

9

3

18

Control of dogs

3

6

4

13

Defecation and urination in public spaces 0 0 2 2
Inappropriate use of public toilets 0 0 0 0

Grand Total

281

212

467

960

PSPOs are but one piece of a framework of measures that can be used to tackle antisocial behaviour.  Much like a byelaw, they are useful where trying to define a common behaviour in an area that needs to be tackled where there is no specific legal provision.  A PSPO is useful in setting the tone of what is and is not acceptable and provides a quicker method of dealing with those who commit anti-social behaviour in the area.

Breaching a PSPO is a criminal offence and can be dealt with by serving a £100 Fixed Penalty Notice or prosecution in court, carrying a maximum fine of £1,000. The court decides on the appropriate sanction if a person is found guilty.

More information about Oxford’s PSPOs.