Dealing with anti social behaviour becomes the hot potato of local politics

Earlier this month Hastings Borough Council (HBC) announced plans to beef up its Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs), then the town’s MP Amber Rudd pledged that she was ‘on a mission’ to protect local businesses from anti social behaviour.

In recent years, PSPO legislation has been heavily criticised – or at least the way councils have used the legislation has been criticised resulting in considerable scrutiny of new PSPO proposals by local pressure groups and the press.

HBC leader Peter Chowney says this has meant that in several cases councils have withdrawn PSPOs after setting them up, because of local and national criticism. Others have simply been ridiculed.

Mr Chowney explains: “In Hastings, PSPOs have been used to prevent anti-social behaviour, use of psychoactive substances or ‘legal highs’, aggressive begging and street drinking. They are also used to set up dog control areas, defining where dogs have to be kept on leads, for example.

“Before the PSPOs can be set up, they have to be subject to a period of public consultation. HBC consulted on extending the street drinking ban to new areas outside the existing ban area, improving the definition of ‘aggressive begging’ for the PSPO banning this, removing the psychoactive substances ban because ‘legal highs’ are no longer legal, so this is covered by other legislation and introducing a new PSPO to ban sleeping overnight in caravans, tents and other structures in some parts of town, coupled with a commitment to support those sleeping in such structures into permanent accommodation.

“In the event, there was little opposition in the consultation to extending the street drinking ban or improving the definition of aggressive begging, but a majority of respondents were opposed to the PSPO banning sleeping overnight in caravans and other structures. Added to this, the Government has now issued guidance that PSPOs cannot be used to prevent rough sleeping – making many other PSPOs agreed by other councils no longer valid.

“So the report to Cabinet recommended that the PSPO on overnight sleeping in caravans and other structures won’t be implemented, but the other changes will be.

“It is worth also noting that introducing a PSPO is only one step towards solving the problems the PSPOs are intended to address. The council’s street wardens have powers to issue Fixed Penalty Notices for breaches of the orders, and also have powers to seize alcohol from street drinkers. However, they can’t do this without the full support of the police – a street warden cannot safely be expected to deal with a group of 20 or more aggressive and sometimes violent street drinkers without effective backup from the police.

“Sussex Police have recently been given additional Government funding, while HBC has had more funding cuts. We’re told that funding will be used to provide 200 additional front line police, including Police Community Support Officers, over the next couple of years. So we’ll be expecting the police to provide additional support, with more PSPOs in particular, to enforce these extended PSPOs in Hastings.” he concludes.

Meanwhile Ms Rudd has been on a walkabout in Hastings town centre and says: “I am determined to work with the affected businesses and HBC to raise this issue higher up the local agenda. I have been reporting my findings directly to the police and I am confident we can all work together to ensure this disruption does not continue.

“I am optimistic that the levels of anti-social behaviour will reduce, and I will call a summit later in the year to discuss progress on this matter.”

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