(a) Notice invoking the Call-in;
(b) Minutes of the Cabinet meeting held on 27 May 2021;
(c) Report submitted to the Cabinet on 27 May 2021.
The Sub-Committee received the papers in respect of the call-in notice submitted by over 150 residents in relation to a decision made by the Cabinet on 27 May 2021 that the Public Spaces Protection Order (Harrow Town Centre) (Harrow Council) 2021 be approved.
The Chair sought clarification from the representative of the signatories for the call in notice in relation Harrow Town Centre Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) as to the grounds and it was confirmed as e).
RESOLVED: That the Call-In in relation to Harrow Town Centre Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) would be determined on the basis of the following grounds:
e) a potential human rights challenge.
The Chair invited the representative of the signatories to present the reasons for the call-in.
The representative, in presenting the call in, questioned and challenged the following aspects of the Cabinet decision:
(i) Whether there had been any consultation with groups regularly in the town centre and should it be extended due to people having to stay at home due to the pandemic;
(ii) Had there been any consideration as to whether there were sufficient bins in the town centre;
(iii) In terms of section 2 of the Cabinet report, why not control the numbers in the town centre;
(iv) It was unclear as to the cause of the problems in the town centre;
(v) The reasonable adjustments, if any, that had been made for people with disabilities in terms of amplification and the distribution of leaflets;
(vi) Made reference to the Government website in terms of those groups that were exempt from the Order;
(vii) Whether the obstruction of an authorised officer was a civil or criminal matter;
(viii) Were there issues with enforcement;
(ix) Whether the Council would be allocating time for protests.
The Portfolio Holder for Community Cohesion, Crime and Enforcement advised the Sub-Committee that the purpose of the Order was to address anti-social behaviour in the town centre for a period of three years. She responded to the points made by the representative of the signatories as follows:
(i) Consultation had been carried out with a wide range of businesses and residents. This had been done electronically due to the Covid 19 pandemic but there had also been posters in the town centre signposting how residents and businesses could get involved. The Business Improvement District (BID) had submitted a response on behalf of its 200 members. The Portfolio Holder outlined the statistics in the report and stated that she was confident that the consultation had been conducted correctly and been wide ranging. She added that there would be a review of the Order in six months;
(ii) The Council had been receiving complaints in relation to litter in the town centre which was the reasoning for requesting that groups/ organisations seek the Council’s permission if they wished to distribute leaflets and also outline the planned clear up following the activity;
(iii) Residents/ Groups were asked to notify the Council if they were going to carry out leaflet distribution in order to better manage activity in the town centre;
(iv) In terms of amplification, possible limitations on music were being considered as there had been multiple groups playing music resulting in competing noise and therefore the Council would look to arrange timeslots;
(v) There would be adjustments for those people with disabilities and the Cabinet report included the Equality Impact Assessment;
(vi) People could still assemble and protest and the Order did not prevent charities, religious or political groups from distributing leaflets. The Portfolio Holder stated that if the Sub-Committee felt that this matter should be addressed/ clarified she would action this and include it in the publicity communications;
(vii) The police would be called if an individual/ group was aggressive but in terms of legal powers, the Cabinet report had been cleared by the legal officer but clarity could be sought as to whether an enforcement officer could demand that an individual provide his or her name.
Having heard from both the representative of the signatories and the Portfolio Holder, the Sub-Committee asked questions and sought clarification on a number of points:-
· In terms of the Equalities Impact Assessment (EQiA, the Chair questioned whether any consideration had been given to religious groups that distributed leaflets in the town centre as some might be more significantly impacted and was advised that a template had been followed. The Portfolio Holder sought to reassure the Sub-Committee that the intention was not to prevent free speech, rather it was to prevent noise nuisance as amplification was not required;
· A Member challenged whether the strength of responses to the consultation justified the decision and was advised that prior to the PSPO there had been a large number of complaints. The Portfolio Holder indicated that she was confident that the decision was justified given the 93 responses to the consultation plus the response from the BID;
· A Member expressed the view that, given the Portfolio Holder’s comments that this was a legacy report, the report should have been withdrawn from the Cabinet agenda. In response, the Portfolio Holder advised that the report was, in her view, straightforward and that the Council wanted to be able to better manage the town centre in terms of activities, hence the request that individuals, groups and organisations provide notification in advance;
· In response to a question as to how Members could be reassured that enforcement officers would have a measured response to any breach of the Order, the Portfolio Holder stated that it was a not for profit system and that all officers from Kingdom were professionally trained and experienced. There were regular meetings between the enforcement officers and managers with reports back to the Council. All of the officers wore body cameras, the footage of which could be reviewed. The aim was to educate, promote and enforce;
· A Member expressed concern that, as staff were paid in accordance with the number of Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) issued, there might be overzealous staff. The Sub-Committee were reassured that the issue of FPNs would be monitored;
· In response to a Member’s comments that the Council appeared to be creating a complicated structure and the request for details as to who would make the decision on the requests to carry out activities received by the Council, the Portfolio Holder advised that such requests would be considered by a Panel involving the BID and the Council within three working days of receipt.
The Portfolio Holder concluded that freedom of speech was not impacted by the PSPO as legislation precluded it, but this could be made more explicit in the Order. The borough wide PSPO had given rise to positive changes in behaviour and she referenced the improvements at Wealdstone Square. The Leader of the Council added that the purpose of the report was to deal with low level crime and to save police time but did not override other legislation in place.
The Chair thanked the representative of the signatories, the Portfolio Holder and Leader of the Council for their attendance, participation, questions and responses and advised that, as there was a second call-in to consider, the signatories would be advised of the decision the following day.
Having adjourned from 7.09 pm to 7.54 pm for deliberations it was
RESOLVED (unanimously): That
(1) the challenge to the decision of Cabinet should be taken no further and the decision be implemented;
(2) the Portfolio Holder for Community Cohesion, Crime and Enforcement be requested to provide clarification as to what was required in terms of exceptions by virtue of existing legislation (religious and political groups, charities) and that
(i) this be made clear in any publicity;
(ii) any leaflet made it clear how the Council would determine applications/ requests;
(iii) and that it also be recognised that the Order would be subject to review.