Councils have issued a record 13,000 fines for “busybody” offences that include shouting, climbing trees and picking up stones.
The number of £100 on-the-spot fines has nearly doubled in a year from 7,970 in 2021 to 13,443 in 2022, beating the previous pre-pandemic high of 10,400 penalty notices for breaches of public spaces protection orders (PSPOs).
Councils have been permitted since 2014 to introduce PSPOs and this has led to more than 2,000 new sets of crimes being created in public places across England and Wales.
PSPOs were designed to tackle serious anti-social behaviour but critics say the new law was drafted so loosely that it has been used to curb “normal” activities such as climbing trees, flying kites or children meeting up in groups of more than three.
Out of the 303 local councils that responded to Freedom of Information requests, 266 said they currently had at least one PSPO in place. Only 10 per cent of councils had never had a PSPO. The councils cumulatively had 2,003 PSPOs currently in place, of which some included more than 20 separate restrictions.
Shouting and swearing banned
Eight of the councils have banned shouting or making a noise, 11 have banned swearing or foul language, and 22 have placed restrictions on loitering. Seven of the councils barred busking and six criminalised feeding the birds, according to research by the Manifesto Club, a campaign group fighting the surge in new neighbourhood crimes.
Its report said: “Rather than regulating activities that are causing significant nuisance or harm, many of these PSPOs criminalise behaviour that is entirely normal.”
Two councils – Torfaen in Wales and Rugby – have introduced orders banning the climbing of trees. Rugby council has also barred the flying of kites and made it a crime to remove any “soil, sand, shingle or rock”. Richmond has made it a crime to “remove or displace any stone, soil or turf without the express prior consent of the council”.