Observer column: 10 March 2017
A Cleaner, Safer Hastings :- Just The Ticket?
At its Cabinet meeting last Monday, Hastings Council agreed a couple of new initiatives to help make the town cleaner and safer.
The first of these was the approval of the long-awaited Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs). These replace some pre-existing legislation, for example Dog Control Orders in parks and on beaches. But they also introduce new powers for the police and council street wardens.
These orders have taken a long time to put together because they have to be based on consistent records of incidents recorded by the police. And they can only apply to areas where these incidents have occurred. So these PSPOs will ban drinking alcohol in public in the town centres and parts of the seafront (excluding permitted areas outside licensed premises), but will allow alcohol to be confiscated if it's a source of anti-social behaviour throughout the borough. They also ban 'aggressive begging' in the town centres. And they ban anti-social behaviour and 'psychoactive substances' in the town centres and seafront. These are illegal anyway, but the PSPOs give wardens and police additional powers to act.
Enforcement will primarily be through council street wardens, with police support. The PSPOs allow wardens to issue fixed penalty notices (FPNs), but could result in an injunction banning offenders from the town centre altogether, and could potentially require them to seek treatment for alcohol addiction. The intention here, for street drinking at least, would be to get people into treatment (which is available) as well as dealing with the general problem of street drinking.
The second new initiative introduces additional street wardens to tackle littering and dog fouling. Our existing wardens already do this, but these new wardens will take a more vigorous approach, to tie in with the new council campaign on posters and social media discouraging littering and dog fouling. These wardens are provided by a private company, at no cost to the council - they fund the service entirely from the income from the FPNs they issue. These wardens adhere to the council's enforcement policy, and will take a measured approach, which the council will define - for example, feeding birds would not normally be classed as littering, although dumping bread on the ground and walking away could be.
There is a risk that the wardens will not issue enough tickets to cover their costs. This is why we took on a private company to trial this approach - if it doesn't work, it will have cost the council nothing. However, if they make more money than the cost of the wardens, the profit is shared with the council, and could be earmarked for environmental improvements. There's also a risk that as more tickets are issued, people will stop dropping litter and not picking up after their dogs, and the income will dry up. But if that happens, then it's a success - the whole purpose of this is to stop littering and dog fouling in the first place. Bringing in these additional wardens will also give our own wardens more time to issue FPNs under the PSPO initiative.
These are just two examples of what the council is doing to clean up the borough, and reduce anti-social behaviour. By taking a more rigorous approach to enforcement, we can hopefully deal with some of these long-standing problems, which affect not just Hastings, but many other towns and cities too.
Council Leader's column