CONTROVERSIAL orders which banned people from 'aggressive begging' or staying too long in public toilets in Oxford will not be renewed, the city council has announced.

However, instead – everybody who lives, works or visits Oxford will be asked to say what they think is ‘unacceptable behaviour’ in the city centre to create a new set of rules.

The council introduced its unpopular Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) in February 2016, and it expired in January.

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The orders can be imposed by local authorities to stop people doing specific things in certain places and give a council power to tackle anti-social behaviour itself rather than relying on the police.

However they have been criticised by rights campaigners who claim they give authorities too much power to make up their own laws.

Oxford’s set of orders faced backlash from people who said it was ‘stupid to criminalise the city’s most vulnerable people'.


A homeless person's belongings outside the New Theatre in George Street.

The eight activities banned in Oxford's PSPO were: ‘aggressive begging’; staying in public toilets without a ‘reasonable excuse’; urinating and defecating in public spaces; cycling in Queen Street and Cornmarket Street from 10am until 6pm; performing in the street and causing a ‘nuisance’; peddling (selling) goods at certain times; drinking alcohol, and not keeping dogs on a lead (or letting them make a mess in public spaces).

During the time the rules were in force, just five £100 fixed penalty notices were given out in the city centre in 1,064 days and one man was prosecuted after he was caught injecting drugs in Gloucester Green toilets.

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Another five fines were handed out, four of them to people peddling goods.

Now, eight months since those rules expired, the council has decided not to renew them.

Instead it will build up a new set of rules from what people say should be ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ in the city.

Through an online questionnaire which launched yesterday and will run until January, locals and visitors will tell the council where they avoid walking at night and what they think is not okay – such as drinking on the street or making too much noise on Cornmarket.

The council will then use the answers to work out a new set of rules that will tackle specific anti-social behaviours in the city centre.

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The council has already carried out some mini consultations, asking 10 residents, 10 business owners and 10 people who access homeless services for their views.

Those residents said the biggest problems were pick-pocketing, bike thefts, people being too drunk and rowdy on George Street and Park End Street, and tourist coaches that stop and sit with their engines running.

A couple of the views were echoed by business owners who agreed that pickpocketing was ‘unacceptable behaviour’ and that people were often too drunk on George Street.

They also highlighted rogue tour guides and said that ‘noisy’ street buskers had to stop.

The main concern from the homeless community was the safety of living on the streets, saying they felt threatened by people leaving pubs drunk that might abuse them or damage their property .


A homeless beggar in on Magdalen Street, Oxford. Picture: Ed Nix

Those initial thoughts have helped shaped the questions which are asked in the online consultation.

That questionnaire is the first step in a wider project led by the council that will create a ‘vision’ for the city.

This will outline what the city will look like in terms of transport, retail, places to eat, tourism, street furniture and public toilets.

The ‘vision’ will bring together different strands of projects like the zero-emission zone and the Covered Market masterplan – to create an overall idea of what the city will look like in the next 30 years or so.

City councillor Mary Clarkson said the city was changing more than ever, on the back of several major developments like the Westgate Centre, so it was important to shape the social environment as well.

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She said: “You have a city centre that is perhaps going through the biggest change in its history – and all of its happening at a significant speed. Oxford city centre in a decade’s time will be at a very different place.

“It's only right that we consider this future now: over the coming months we will be consulting residents on the future of every aspect of the city centre, but we are starting with the behaviours that people think are acceptable and unacceptable.”

Green councillor Dick Wolff, meanwhile, welcomed the council dropping the PSPO.

He said: “We strongly opposed the original plans on the grounds that criminalising instead of helping the poor and vulnerable people in society was a stupid idea.

“I look forward to seeing what people have to say in the consultation and reading about the plans more.

“Quite a lot of the heat around the issue back when PSPOs first came about was because we wanted to help people who became homeless, not make it more difficult and criminalise them.”

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At least five rough sleepers have died in the city since the end of last year.

Have your say on the city centre behaviours consultation here: