The decision by the coalition Government in 2014 to create a new type of by-law has led the Council for the most Westerley part of London to force the town featured in this photograph to become the loneliest place in the UK. At a time when social isolation is seen to be a precursor for all sorts of issues the ‘wise’ men and women in Hillingdon Borough Council have designated large parts of the town of Hayes and also two car parks in nearby Uxbridge as places where it is illegal for more than one person to gather unless they are doing so at a bus stop waiting for a scheduled bus or going to or from a parked vehicle. This is despite the fact that the motto for the Council is “Putting our residents first”. The same Council is also consulting on using the legislation to prevent people from lighting fires or barbecues without the council’s consent in parks and open spaces and using noisy radio-controlled model vehicles and aircraft, except where allowed! I confess that my knowledge of West London is not precise but I think that Hillingdon is one of the parts of London impacted by aircraft noise from Heathrow, but apparently they want to protect residents from the noise of radio controlled cars! However this sort of nonsense is not confined to London, nor to the modern practices of radio controlled vehicles or gathering to speak to another human being. As for the bureaucracy of obtaining Council consent for the lighting of a BBQ despite the vagaries of British weather!
Further North and West from London in a village called Bream in the Forest Of Dean, the local Council is consulting on making it an offence for anyone to allow sheep to enter and remain within a designated area. They won’t however prevent sheep from passing through the area while moving from one area of grazing land to another. The District Council on their website refer to the anti-social behaviour issues associated with irresponsible shepherding of sheep. They claim to support the tradition of free roaming sheep within the District and accept that the vast majority of sheep owners are responsible. However, complaints have been received regarding the irresponsible shepherding of sheep, particularly in Bream!
Travelling North East to Worksop, the Council have employed the PSPO legislative framework to prevent under 16 year olds (who are not under the effective control of a parent or are responsible person aged 18 or over) from gathering in groups of three or more. This creates all sorts of problems for those who have to police these ridiculous laws. After all a sheep grazing in the wrong place, or two people stood together in a defined part of Hayes are easy to detect. However spotting three people or more who are under 16 and being sure that the group does not include at least one 18 year old when no one needs to carry ID is very problematic. Clearly three or more 4-7 year olds playing in a park would be easy to spot and they must be locked up straight away. Even 8-11 year olds would be identifiable. However from 12 or 13 years onwards things get much more challenging, it is after all the age at which people start to fool newsagents into selling them cigarettes. What happens if an unbelieving Police Officer arrests three 17 year olds who just happen to have young looking faces? This is ridiculous and someone should have thought a bit more clearly about their plans. Still it is much cheaper to pass a PSPO and believe you have solved the problem than it is to employ a detached youth workers who could actually engage constructively with the groups of people concerned.
It is vital that Councils have the power to set local regulations to deal with real issues, but they need to apply common sense and consider if their bright idea is workable or if they will be wasting police time, which is an offence after all!