Oxford PSPO will not go ahead as planned following legal challenge by boat dwellers

Oxford City Council’s Scrutiny Committee decided last night (7th March 2016) not to take the draft Waterways Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) forward to consultation following intervention by boat dwellers who pointed out that the draft PSPO was beyond the Council’s legal powers to implement because it sought to undermine the lawful rights of boaters and to usurp the powers of navigation authorities in legislation such as Section 79 of the Thames Conservancy Act 1932 and Section 17 of the British Waterways Act 1995. The Scrutiny Committee will instead set up a meeting between the Council, boat dwellers and the NBTA to review the current form of the PSPO.

This is what boat dwellers put to to Oxford City Council’s Scrutiny Committee last night:

Yesterday (Sunday 6th March), a group of boaters met to discuss the proposed PSPO, this was in spite of little prior notification of this scrutiny meeting. Thankfully I am able to attend this important meeting so as to relay our concerns that the proposal in front of you is not fit for public consultation. Please note that the ‘Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014)’ only gives councils the statutory power to make a PSPO if activities are persistent and will have a detrimental effect on quality of life. However, the document provides insufficient evidence to conclude that the activities detailed within it do indeed have a significant detrimental effect on quality of life. The scale and scope of the PSPO are thus disproportionate to the supposed problems.

I will provide a few examples of how the evidence (Appendix 3) does not stand up to serious scrutiny. Firstly, the ‘crime summary’ is irrelevant, as by definition these activities are already covered by criminal law and thus do not require a PSPO. According to the ‘Crime and Disorder Act (1998)’ anti-social behaviour is action causing ‘harassment, alarm or distress.’ Yet, ‘mooring without consent’, one of the items in the proposal, clearly does not satisfy the statutory definition of Anti Social Behaviour. Therefore, we would advise that the relating twelve pieces of evidence and proposed action should not go to public consultation.

On the whole, rather than crimes having been committed by boaters, it is boaters who have been the victims of crimes, such as, arson, theft and criminal damage. Yet the the PSPO will needlessly restrict boaters’ ability to moor in Oxford by criminalising normal and necessary boating activities. I draw your attention in particular to the item relating to noise and smoke pollution. The running of engines, generators and stoves is essential for canal boats. The PSPO will, therefore, leave dozens of homes without lighting or heating – basic human rights recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And a fact not considered in the impact risk review. Moreover, the evidence presented is anecdotal and flimsy at best. The supposed smoke pollution appears to be little more than natural fog and these pictures seemingly come from a single source. Rather than relying on inconclusive visual evidence, reports of air and noise pollution levels should be scientifically measured according to existing national and EU legislation if they are to be considered valid evidence.

Thirdly, the 14 cases relating to alcohol are connected to the area of Folly Bridge, there is no suggestion that they are connected to boaters and seem related instead to the location of a bench, yet the area covered by this PSPO will Oxford wide! Based upon the evidence provided the proposed PSPO is disproportionate, unjustified, or even illegal regarding, at least, the matters of mooring, alcohol, crime, and noise and smoke pollution. We wish to communicate our continued desire to work with council to improve Oxford waterways, however the document in front of you is erroneous and thus not fit to go forward to public consultation. Finally, we’d like to highlight that the NBTA have offered us legal support in ensuring our statutory and human rights, and that any prosecution of Oxford boaters would result in judicial review. It is the role of this Committee to ensure that this PSPO and the evidence supporting it would stand up to scrutiny of the highest standards.