Councils could fine parents for parking near schools

New rules could also see dog walkers and even hen parties fined

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Parents could be banned from parking near their children's school and fined up to £100 if they disobey, under contrvorsial new rules being considered.

Public spaces protection orders (PSPOs), which will be introduced from next month, were intended by ministers to be used against antisocial behaviour such as spitting.

But according to the Manifesto Club think-tank, many councils have plans to use them against "public activities that are merely considered unusual or unpopular, or with which the council disagrees".

The Manifesto Club interviewed local authorities about how they planned to use the orders. And at least one, it says, is considering using them to prevent parking near schools at drop-off and pick-up times.

Others are considering using them to make sure that stag and hen groups are properly dressed. Some councils in London and the south-east told the Manifesto Club they were planning to use them to prohibit rough sleeping, and others to force dogs to be on leads at all times.

Several plan to target "boy racers, skateboards, ball games, congregating in car parks", and Rugby Borough Council has proposed using the orders to limit the times that charity fundraisers can operate in the town centre.

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"This list is just an indication of how these new powers will be used; there are many more possibilities, unfortunately limited more by the imagination of local authorities than by the rule of law," says the Manifesto Club. "We call on the public to be on high alert to the potential abuse of PSPOs."

Many groups are already concerned about the orders. "The 'reasonable grounds' for introducing these new powers are so wide-ranging, all-encompassing and open to subjective interpretation that they might well be used to target informal performances of art and music on the grounds that some people don't like buskers and find them annoying," says Jonny Walker of the Keep Streets Live busking campaign group.

"In Birmingham, buskers have been given letters stating that from October 2014 the police and local authority can apply for PSPOs against buskers, and implying that these powers will be used if buskers don't sign up to an extensive range of restrictions such as auditions, pre-booking only authorised spots and strict time limits on pitches."

Under the legislation which PSPOs replace, councils could only introduce new byelaws under strict conditions. They had to show that what they were banning was a nuisance that merited criminal sanctions, that the sanctions were being applied equally and that they didn't interfere with the rights of the people affected.

Now, though, councils can prohibit activities which are "likely to have... a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality" - in other words, says the Manifesto Club, more or less anything. Nor do councils have to carry out a public consultation before imposing PSPOs.

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Violations of PSPOs can be enforced through on-the-spot fines, rather than through the courts, as with bye-laws.

"What is perhaps most concerning is that local authorities can delegate enforcement power to private contractors, as some councils do currently for litter fines. These private contractors generally work on a commission basis, and receive a portion of fines issued," the Manifesto Club report concludes.

"In every case, the employment of private contractors has led to a large increase in fines issued, as well as allegations of unfair fines and aggressive/rude behaviour."

It adds: "Given that the forms of consultation and appeal for PSPOs are extremely limited, we call on the public to be on high alert this autumn for unreasonable or unduly restrictive PSPOs."

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