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Don't make life harder for the homeless, don't criminalise your buskers

This petition had 15,922 supporters

Under pressure from the private business group Chester CH1 BID and Cheshire Police, Cheshire West and Chester Council have decided that it would be a good idea to deal with homelessness not by providing additional shelter for the vulnerable but by consulting on plans which would make it a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £1000 to ‘lie down or sleep in any public place’.

In a wide-ranging proposal to tackle ‘antisocial behaviour’ in the city using a controversial new Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) powers people would face arrest, a criminal record and fines of up to £1000 for rough sleeping, begging, and even for busking without passing a 'quality assessment'. Under the proposals it would even be a criminal offence to feed birds!

When Oxford City Council introduced similar proposals over 72,000 people signed a petition asking them to think again and Liberty issued a legal challenge calling on them to abandon their unlawful attempts to criminalise homeless people and buskers.

One of the architects of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s proposals, Chief Inspector Jez Taylor, a partnership officer with Cheshire Police, has justified them in the following terms:

“Chester is one of the best preserved medieval walled cities in the United Kingdom. Its Roman heritage and many assets including the cathedral, the walls, the racecourse, the zoo and the river…a PSPO will…improve the image of the city centre’

But this approach to policy making privileges the appearance of Chester and surrounding areas over its' citizens' wellbeing, and risks treating rough sleepers, the vulnerable and even buskers as a problem to be dealt with, as an inconvenience, as a threat, rather than as individual human beings.

We are calling on Cheshire West and Chester Council to abandon their plan to criminalise rough sleeping, begging and busking. The council and police have strong existing powers to deal with the small minority of people who cause genuine antisocial behaviour, they have no need for the proposed sweeping and arbitrary measures. 

We have seen public pressure prevent similar measures being adopted in Oxford, Westminster and Hackney and know that public pressure can stop this from happening in Chester too.

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