Croydon is home to one of the UK’s largest Business Improvement Districts in its town centre. The town centre is also covered by a Public Space Protection Order, a piece of legislation that is aimed at tackling anti-social behaviour in communities by targeting and prohibiting certain activities.
We have spoken to Josie Appleton of the Manifesto Club, a London-based activist group concerned with PSPOs, as well as the CEO of Croydon BID, Matthew Sims, in order to gain two perspectives into the different effects of PSPOs. How important are PSPOs to business districts? Are businesses investing in policing and public spaces evidence of gentrification? Or is it simply necessary to ensure safer and cleaner streets?
Researcher and activist Josie Appleton expressed her concern at the authority that councillors have when implementing these PSPOs. “We’ve never had such a blank cheque power, the idea that a single councillor can write something that will be law the next day, is absolutely shocking in terms of lawmaking. I don’t think it’s an effective way of tackling the daily problems councils face.”
Appleton explains that groups with special interests, such as the police, may be in contact with councillors in order to request PSPOs for specific areas or target specific behaviours such as dog-walking.
“The police are definitely a big source of pressure; they ask for the PSPOs that they want and that they can enforce. It’s a scary situation really because the police are writing the law, so they have the power to ask people to leave public spaces. I think there’s also local campaigners, so the kind of slightly curmudgeonly, disapproving local resident, who writes a lot of letters to the council, they can get PSPOs that put controls on dog walking for example, if the person or councillor doesn’t like dogs. I think they can be subject to various forms of pressure and business interests, and kind of a social cleansing agenda. The problem is any special interest group can use PSPOs to get their way.”
“I think the trend of cracking down on anything seen as objectionable definitely goes back to the large amounts of regeneration in the 90s and early 2000s, as well as the privatisation and the formation of BIDs”
When asked about the groups of people targeted by PSPOs, Appleton says that young people are targeted though crackdowns on behaviour such as ball games and skateboarding, as well as homeless people through behaviours such as rough sleeping and busking. Appleton then went on to say that if you look at the groups of people who are being targeted by PSPOs, there is “definitely” a link between PSPOs and gentrification.
“Obviously, the terms used in the PSPOs are very subjective, such as: ‘detrimental effects on the quality of the life of the area.’ It basically amounts to something that people find distasteful or unpleasant. I think the trend of cracking down on anything seen as objectionable definitely goes back to the large amounts of regeneration in the 90s and early 2000s, as well as the privatisation and the formation of BIDs. That’s when you get crackdowns on busking and street drinking and that sort of thing, and private security guards patrolling public squares, so there’s definitely a link.”
According to data released by Croydon Observatory, there were 2,106 reported instances of anti-social behaviour taking place in Fairfield ward (the location of Croydon Town Centre), at a rate of 120.8 per 1,000 people between March 2020 and February 2021. This would mean that the ASB rate for Fairfield is nearly three times that of Croydon as a whole, that rate being 42.8 per 1,000 during this time.
Matthew Sims stressed the importance of PSPOs in tackling anti-social behaviour, explaining that “the PSPOs allow officers to, in a sense, manage the locality.” An example of “managing the locality” that Sims gives is “dispersing large groups.” The Croydon PSPO also lists restrictions on “being in possession of an open container of, or consuming alcohol” as well as “behaving in a manner, either as an individual or within a group of people, which is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.”
“it’s important for us to feel – and I need to underline the word feel – safe and secure, and you need to remove the feeling of possible intimidation that does happen…”
The Croydon BID invests over a quarter of its annual revenue into policing and security. Sims explains that the reason for this is not to “deliver statutory services,” thereby outsourcing local policing within the area of the BID. Rather, the BID’s investments are used to provide additional services “to make sure that the business community receives what they need.”
Regarding PSPOs, Sims explained their importance in creating the safe and secure environment that BIDs aim to achieve. “The PSPOs, across London and beyond, focus on different needs and different wants. When we use a town centre, it’s important for us to feel – and I need to underline the word ‘feel’ – safe and secure, and you need to remove the feeling of possible intimidation that does happen…. We support [the Croydon PSPO], we support its approach.”
On the issue of homelessness within Croydon and the BID’s role in addressing it, Sims had this to say: “We are not experts when it comes to homelessness, and that’s really important to make that point. We work with partners, whether it be Crisis, Thames Outreach, Evolve Housing and Support, Croydon Council and others, and to be able to understand the issues and the concerns and how best we can support it, not drive it, but support it.”
“To give you an example, Croydon BID sponsored the first-ever Croydon Sleep Out. Now the sleep out, by no means transports you to becoming homeless for one night, but what it did do is it raised over [£75,000] for a homeless charity so that that charity can directly affect and make a difference to the lives of people that are currently on the streets, and that’s important. There is far more that needs to be done, without question. The BID company will continue its work with Croydon Council and many others to be able to help improve that situation. It is a tough challenge but yes, we are involved.”
What are your thoughts on the issues raised by both parties? Were you previously aware of PSPOs or the significance of BIDs? Do you agree with the methods used to address the rate of anti-social behaviour in the town centre? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.