Wheels for Wellbeing Quick Guide to Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs)

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Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) and Disabled people’s mobility

Three images in a row: Graphic of a yellow active manual wheelchair user on a blue background, the cover of the Public Spaces Protection Order guidance, and a yellow recumbent cycle rider on a blue background.

Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) are being used by some local authorities (councils) to ban cycling in areas of towns and cities – usually in town or city centres.

Some local authorities are including exemptions which allow Disabled people to continue riding their cycles through the PSPO area.

Unfortunately, we do not believe that the exemptions can be sufficiently broad or administered sufficiently well to provide good access for Disabled people cycling. Disabled people riding bicycles and who may not appear stereotypically Disabled to all observers are probably most likely to be disbelieved by any person enforcing a PSPO.

Other local authorities are not even including exemptions for Disabled people cycling.

In either case, council officials, police officers and members of the public may challenge Disabled people who are using their cycle as a mobility aid to replace walking.

Any local authority considering using a PSPO to reduce antisocial behaviour including by people cycling (or using e-motorcycles) needs to consider alternatives to PSPOs, equality impacts and exemptions very carefully:

Improved public space design, education and enforcement of antisocial behaviour without use of PSPOs is likely to provide better access for Disabled people and potentially better reduction of antisocial behaviour than a PSPO.

Without extremely careful design of any PSPO, including training, signage and implementation, Disabled people will be at risk of being fined, subject to legal action or even of being harassed or assaulted when using mobility aid cycles to access locations within the PSPO area.

What are PSPOs?

PSPOs are supposed to prevent anti-social behaviour. They are made and enforced by local authorities. They allow local authorities to set rules and restrictions in an area to prevent identified ongoing anti-social behaviour. Breaking the rules set by a PSPO without a reasonable excuse is an offence.

Before making a PSPO, a local authority has to have reasons for deciding that certain conditions have been met. These include:

  • That activities which have been taking place, or are likely to take place, will have a detrimental effect on (be bad for) the local area.
  • The effect of the activities is, or is likely to be, persistent (will keep happening) and unreasonable (too bad to just ignore).

A PSPO Must State:

  • The detrimental activities the PSPO intends to reduce;

  • How people are required to behave under the PSPO;

  • Any exemptions;

  • The area covered by the PSPO;

  • Consequences for the breach of the PSPO;

  • The period for which the PSPO is in effect.

PSPOs: Essential Considerations

PSPOs are not the only tool local authorities can use to address anti-social behaviour. PSPOs are not always the most appropriate tool. Local authorities are expected to consider whether a PSPO is necessary, proportionate, and the best approach before one is used, and to include it as part of a broad and balanced anti-social behaviour strategy.

If used, PSPOs should target the detrimental behaviour directly, not other associated activities or characteristics which might not be detrimental in themselves. Councils should aim to balance the rights of a community to enjoy a public space without encountering anti-social behaviour, and the civil liberties of individuals and groups who may be affected by any restrictions imposed.

The civil liberties of people cycling safely and considerately must be considered when a PSPO restricting cycling is made.

Photo of a temporary sign, black writing on yellow background reads "cyclists dismount unless a mobility aid"

PSPOs and Equality

The potential impact of the PSPO on people with protected characteristics should be assessed. Equality Impact Assessments can be used to decide whether exemptions would be appropriate. For example, a PSPO could prohibit dogs except assistance dogs.

The requirements of the Equality Act (2010) make it unlikely that a total prohibition on cycling can be justified: A prohibition without any exceptions would indirectly discriminate against Disabled people who use a cycle as a mobility aid. This means that any PSPO should include exemptions to permit Disabled people to access the area using their cycle, e.g. “No cycling, except for cycles used as a mobility aid at walking speed”.

To prevent harassment of Disabled people cycling, processes should ensure that enforcement officers do not challenge people cycling in this slow and considerate manner within the PSPO area.

Cycling is Not Anti-Social

Guidelines on the use of PSPOs highlight that PSPOs should target specific anti-social behaviours. PSPOs should not prevent people from carrying out legitimate activities.

Cycling is not anti-social behaviour:
Cycling without due care and attention in a public space and causing other members of the public to be unsafe or to feel unsafe may be anti-social behaviour.

A PSPO could reasonably be used to tackle anti-social cycling, but should not prevent safe use of cycles.

This could be done by explicitly prohibiting irresponsible cycling and indicating what responsible cycling would look like, e.g. “Cyclists must ride at walking pace, and must cycle with due care and attention at all times”.

PSPOs Require Consultation

PSPOs can only be introduced after public consultation, and are valid for 3 years. After 3 years, the local authority should evaluate the effectiveness and unintended consequences of the PSPO. After another public consultation, the PSPO can be extended for a further 3 years.

If a local authority has prohibited cycling in a public space, the 3-yearly review can be used to challenge the effectiveness and appropriateness of the PSPO, particularly if it can be shown that Disabled cyclists have been unduly and disproportionately affected by it.

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