Letter: Regarding answers to questions about the 'Big Change'
Date published: 12 July 2017
Big Change: Richard Shaw, Sanctuary Trust; Denis Skelton, Petrus; Councillor Shaun O'Neill, Chair of the Rochdale Township; Margaret Wight, Rochdale Foodbank; Mark Foxley, Rochdale Town Centre Management
In reference to article of 10/7/2017, there are a number of points I'd like to make.
Firstly, Mr Foxley claiming that the 'Big Change' project is not for homeless people I find a little confusing, as an aim of the initiative is to get people off the streets, and homelessness would be one of the reasons they are there, surely?
Mark Widdup's statement that the proposed Public Spaces Protection Order "is not about homelessness" could also be regarded as confusing and disingenuous as one of the offences covered by the proposed order is begging. He also says that there are beggars in the town centre that are not homeless, yet again not providing any evidence to support that assertion. What we certainly can be sure of is that poverty is why they are there, and I cannot see how an on the spot fine of £100, and potentially a fine of up to £1,000 if they are unable to pay, will help.
Another really important point here is the negative effects on civil liberties of this order, which include a proposal for a curfew on under 18s being in the town centre between 11pm and 6am, which could well be seen as an unwarranted restriction on the vast majority of law-abiding young people.
There is also the proposal to outlaw the unauthorised distribution of printed materials and literature, which could have a negative effect on groups peacefully campaigning on political and social issues, having to seek permission from an unspecified person from the council. This could also affect people distributing materials aimed at legitimately promoting their businesses.
I would also say that there is little justification for what the civil liberties organisation Liberty calls 'a blunt instrument' if you look at crime figures for the town centre. UK Crimestats figures shows that in February 2016 there were 60 ASB offences, and by February 2017 that had fallen to 43.
According to the Police UK website, 70% of reported offences required no further action. This shows that this proposal is not needed or justified by the level of crimes, which could be adequately dealt with under existing public order legislation.
I am disappointed, though not surprised, that the council insists on continuing with this flawed proposal. I hope that there are enough councillors with a conscience to challenge the leadership on this issue.
David Fenwick Finn
The views expressed are those of the author of the letter and not those of Rochdale Online.