Councils threaten legal action for messy gardens or loud TV

Emma Woollacott
Autumn leaves cleaning on green lawn
Autumn leaves cleaning on green lawn

Councils have been threatening residents with a criminal record for 'crimes' such as feeding birds in gardens or shouting and crying in their homes.

Under regulations known as Community Protection Notices (CPNs), unveiled by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2014, councils can bar individuals from activities that they believe are damaging to local quality of life.

Failure to comply can attract an on-the-spot fine of up to £100, rising to £2,500 if the matter goes to court. Businesses can be fined £20,000 for a breach.

However, freedom of information requests by the Manifesto Club, which campaigns against excessive regulation, have revealed that between October 2014 and October 2015, 107 councils used their CPN powers, imposing 3,943 CPNs and 9,546 CPN warnings.

Newham Council was particularly enthusiastic, accounting for 1,486 CPNS and 8,795 warnings.

Wakefield issued 802 CPNs and Leeds City Council said that it used the notices extensively, but that the numbers were not known.

"Four councils issued notices for feeding birds in gardens, three for busking, and 18 for messy gardens. Five targeted arguing/shouting/crying in the home, while others targeted rough sleeping, street drinking and begging.

Newcastle-Under-Lyme Council issued several notices specified that there should be no shouting, arguing or crying that could be overheard; Tameside Council banned having the TV on at a level that could be heard outside the flat at any time of the day or night.

"Such orders undermine the privacy and sanctity of the home. If you cannot cry within your own house, or feed the birds in your garden, then the home has no significant meaning as a private space which is protected from the demands of the outer world," the Manifesto Club says.

"These orders also criminalise some activities commonly viewed as normal or even positive: feeding wild birds in your garden is encouraged by the RSPB."

Councils have also used CPNs to order residents to deal with the invasive plant Japanese knotweed - something that Invasive Non-Native Specialists Association (INNSA) chairman Mike Clough has criticised.

"The UK has no plan to tackle invasive species, but an ever-increasing legislation to punish those unlucky enough to have it on their land," he says.

And councils have even used the measures to stamp out criticism of their own policy, with one man in East Lancashire threatened with a CPN to force him to take down 'inflammatory' signs that criticised a new housing development.

"We urge councils to publicise their use of CPNs, so these can be subject to local public debate and discussion – and for individuals who have been affected by CPNs to come forward," says the Manifesto Club.

"It is our view that the Home Office should investigate and record how these powers are being used, and consider whether they should not be more significantly restricted."

It's calling for anybody hit with a CPN they they think is unreasonable to get in touch for help challenging the order.