Local authorities have been creating their own rules for public spaces, and some of them seem a little extreme

Image: Getty.

Did you know that you're not allowed to beg on a certain road in Poole? And in Grimsby, police can confiscate your alcohol? Oh, and if you're thinking of going to Blackpool, you'd better find out whether their ban on "inappropriate dress" has come into force yet. 

These rules, known as "Public Space Protection Orders", or PSPOs, have all been introduced over the past five months, under new legislation passed in October 2014. Local councils can now ban activities they deem harmful in certain public spaces for a period of up to three years. Those who break the rules are usually fined, but can be prosecuted too.

In the past, councils had the option to create by-laws against certain activities, which had to be approved by central government, but these new orders can be put into place by any local government without consultation with any other body. Under the terms of the leglslation, local government must only satisfy itself that the activity is detrimental, goes on in that area, and is likely to continue unless action is taken.

For those who hate Blackpool's infestation of hen and stag dos, these rules may seem welcome and necessary. They offer councils the power to target specific problems where they're identified, quickly and without the usual amount of bureaucratic faff. 

But a group known as the "Manifesto Club" are campaigning against the orders, which director Josie Appleton says are "too broad" and allow councils to ban "pretty much anything". As she told local government news site LocalGov:

The result [of PSPOs] is a patchwork of criminal law where something is illegal in one town but not in the next, or in one street but not the next. These orders will turn town and city centres into no-go zones for homeless people, buskers, old ladies feeding pigeons, or anyone else the council views as “messy”.

Think that sounds a little dramatic? Run your eye over a few PSPOs either in place, or touted to be soon:

  • On a Cambridge road and green, you can't carry an "open container" of alcohol;
  • In Boston's "controlled zone", you can't drink in public;
  • In one area of Poole, you can't drink from an open container or beg for money;
  • Kettering wants to regulate skateboarding, charity collectors, begging, "unsupervised juveniles" "loitering" and "obstructing the highway";
  • Bath wants to ban amplified busking in parts of the city centre;
  • Blackpool wants to restrict "inappropriate dress", "loitering around cash machines", "rag mag sellers" and the sale of lucky charms;
  • Cheltenham may restrict begging;
  • Many councils including Portsmouth, Bradford and Southend are considering banning legal highs;
  • Canterbury and Birmingham hope to regulate busking, including confiscating buskers' instruments;
  • Norwich was considering skateboarding and rollerskating in parts of the city centre, but has shelved plans for now;
  • Oxford is planning to ban a range of "anti-social" behaviours in the city centre, including rough sleeping (65,000 residents have signed a petition against the order at time of writing).

You can see more examples at the Manifesto Club's website here.

As you can see, some of these certainly fall under the aims of the PSPO legislation, through which police or local government can use tailored orders to cut down on specific crimes such as drinking or violence in certain areas

But others targeted at begging, busking, sleeping rough or wearing "inappropriate" clothes seem part of a Broken Windows approach at best, or a plain intolerant one at worst.

They also call into question the definition of "public spaces": while some, or even all of these activities might not be to your liking, they're still mostly activities which are legal elsewhere. And while a lone order may seem reasonable, there's nothing to stop them accumulating.

Take this map of London, showing the 435 zones where leafleting, protesting, drinking or dogwalking have been banned through PSPOs or other laws (leafleting, for example, can be regulated under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005): 

Click for a larger image. You can play with an interactive version of the map here.

Not so public anymore, eh?


Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.

What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.