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Petitioning Oxford City Council

Don't ban busking, begging etc in Oxford city centre

Oxford City council is proposing a series of draconian bans on 'anti-social activities' in the city centre (as a 'public spaces protection order', PSPO).

These activities include:

sleeping in toilets, rough sleeping, public drinking, dogs off leads in the city centre, pigeon feeding, 'non-compliant' busking, and 'persistent begging'.

Councillor Dee Sinclair told BBC Radio Oxford that the council wanted to stop things in public spaces which make others 'feel uncomfortable'. She used the word 'uncomfortable' several times in her description of the application of these powers. Her example of something that made people feel uncomfortable was somebody asking them for money.

No doubt buskers, sleeping in toilets, pigeons, etc, may make somebody feel uncomfortable. But that doesn't mean they should be subject to the criminal law, that they should be a crime.

It is one of the nice characteristics of Oxford that it is a varied city, with a 'town' as well as a 'gown'. This gives it vitality that is lacking in pristine, privileged neighbourhoods. Perhaps an Eton boy passes a young homeless man on his 2am cycle ride home, and who knows, they may exchange a word or two.

It is not clear whether the prohibitions on public drinking are meant to be enforced against exam celebrants, with their champagne-bearing exuberance - or whether it is only meant for the street drinkers sitting rather more quietly on the bench. Either way, it is an outrage, since both groups have equal rights and an equal claim to be in public space, to which they contribute something.

This law is the violation not just of the liberties of the homeless, of buskers, and so on, but of the life of a city, which is not a photo in a brochure but a living breathing thing, where people of all backgrounds go about their business and encounter one another.

The only sensible use of coercive powers is to prosecute people who have committed criminal acts. If they have not, they should be left to go about their business and their 'activities'. It is public activities, and not 'public spaces protection orders', which provide the true character of public spaces.

Oxford City Council's Consultation on the PSPO is open until 31 March. Respond to it here.

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