Our local council is seeking residents’ views on a public space protection order (PSPO) in the city centre. The primary role of this is to deal with persistent begging by organised gangs who visit the city. The police know who they are and where they come from but lack the legal powers to deal with them.
Some reports have suggested that this is an attack on the homeless. It isn’t, and my view is that we tackle homelessness by building more affordable social housing and controlling rents – but that is a debate for another day.
The PSPO is about tackling anti-social behaviour in Chester. The problem is exacerbated because there are several shops in town selling so-called “legal-highs.” These attract elements who will beg for money to buy the drugs and then take them in town. There have been several cases in recent weeks of ambulances being called for comatose legal-high users.
I would quite happily see these shops closed down or banned from selling legal highs. And when we are slashing funding to the drug and alcohol dependency clinic in Boughton, which helps people overcome drug addiction, I can’t help wonder whether we have our priorities wrong – so I will be asking the Home Office to ban legal highs.
But it’s the busking element of the PSPO consultation that has caused most debate. The consultation asks if we should ban, or licence, buskers in the city centre. I’m not in favour of this. Don’t get me wrong, there are a couple of regular buskers in town I can’t stand. There are some brilliant performers too. And ‘living statues’? What’s all that about? But I just think we shouldn’t limit artistic creativity or spontaneity.
However, ask shops and business owners in town who have buskers playing outside their premises for hours on end and they will tell you the never-ending music drives them potty.
Then there are the visiting gangs mentioned above, who will tell the police they are not begging but busking, as they blow a few notes on a harmonica. It is a tricky situation with many considerations.
The beauty of this consultation is that it’s just that – a genuine consultation run by a council leadership that wants to listen. It’s a chance for us all to help set an important policy for the city. I will be sending in my views to the council and I hope you will be too. You read all of the documentation and get involved in the consultation at: cheshirewestandchester.gov.uk/pspo
If you have any thoughts on the PSPO that you want to share with me and others, you can add them below.