These comments are in addition to those already made by George Riches on behalf of the Coventry Cycling Campaign.

My comments related primarily to the consistent failure of Coventry City Council to even acknowledge the existence of the need to provide for cyclists with disabilities.

I object to the whole PSPO, on the following grounds:

A city centre hostile to people with disabilities

Firstly and foremost, as a cyclist with a very serious disability, I despair at the council’s recent complete dismissal of my complaint that it is failing to protect my rights as a person with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

Background – a city that doesn’t even care

A detailed submission was made in June 2016 (attached), explaining how the council fails to protect people who need to cycle, but who have protected characteristics including age (both young and old), gender and disabilities, including hidden as well as visible ones.

Having waited a full 6 months for any kind of reply, I was finally brushed off with an extremely blunt and dismissive email from Cllr Jayne Innes, in which I was rather bizarrely told that the Equality Act does not apply to modes of transport. This rather perverse logic would also imply that the council has no duty to provide disabled car parking spaces, because these are for the exclusive use by people with disabilities who are either driving or being driven.

Furthermore, tomorrow (Monday 16th January), the council starts on its completely reckless and ill founded removal of bus lanes, a procedure which has also been instigated with scant research, and without any kind of equality assessment.

A legally incompetent council

I simply do not believe that the council has the legal authority or ability to implement so-called public space protection orders in a way which doesn’t heavily discriminate against people who simply wish to go about their peaceful and legitimate daily activity of cycling around the city centre, whether they have a protected characteristic or not.

I note in particular that it’s very rare to see older people cycling in Coventry city centre, whilst there are also very few younger cyclists, and it’s abundantly clear that the vast majority of cyclists in Coventry are male – yet none of these discriminatory factors exist in a city like Cambridge.

Lawful excuses

In natural justice, there exist various defences of lawful excuse, usually based around the argument that committing one particular offence is necessary because it prevents a greater harm elsewhere.

I firmly believe that defences of this nature will be used to challenge PSPO tickets given for cycling in the proposed zones, and that such challenges will be upheld, because the council has consistently failed to provide safe segregated cycle paths in the city centre.

This proposal is particularly egregious, given that the council has now completed its round of highly dangerous and experimental shared space, whilst failing to add a single extra metre of safe and properly demarcated cycle path anywhere in the city centre at all.

Swimming against the tide

It’s completely outrageous that in a city which has such a strong cycling heritage, the council is continuing to indulge in measures to prevent and punish cycling, when in so many other places in the UK, including relatively nearby cities such as Birmingham and Leicester, cycling is being actively encouraged and allowed to flourish, through the effective provision of segregated cycle paths.

To the best of my knowledge, in 2016, Coventry City Council installed just 30m of new cycle path, this being paid for by the new Aldi store at Cannon Park.

Coventry City Council is utterly negligent in its duty to provide this safe cycling space in the city centre, because it has pursued a thoroughly narcissistic and vanity driven agenda to impose shared spaces on vulnerable users,.

Legal Quagmires

The city centre, despite looking nice, is ultimately set up for failure, and the PSPOs are an unwelcome diversion from the core issue, which is the failure to provide adequate traffic filters. In this hostile environment, there can be no confidence that Civil Enforcement Officers (CEO’s) will exercise discretion between people who are cycling in one area to avoid a dangerous road, and those who are being genuinely dangerous, an offence which can already be prosecuted by the police.

In fact, under the offence of “dangerous cycling”, a cyclist would need to be shown to be acting in a way which is below what would reasonably be expected of a competent cyclist. Such a description would not apply to cycling across a traffic free bridge to avoid a shared space junction, because that would be a demonstration of competence. Thus, the PSPOs have a very real risk of becoming legal non sequiturs, because such a demonstration of competence would result in a fine, whereas cycling through a dangerous junction would not. Whereas self representation on a point of principle should be looked on favourably by a magistrate, the council will have to incur thousands of pounds in legal fees to pursue criminal cases for which there is no need and no purpose.

Moreover, at a national level, police have been advised to take a completely hands off approach towards cycling on the pavement. This is understandably not an ideal situation – cyclists should really be on a safe protected cycle path, or where such a path isn’t necessary, they should be on the road.

In a few rare incidences where cyclists have been prosecuted for riding on the pavement and they have then resisted such tickets, these cases have then been dropped by the courts because they have not been deemed in the public interest.

Yet a £100 fine for cycling in the city centre with the potential for it to rise to £1000 if taken to the courts, as is already the case in Mansfield, is completely disproportionate, when drivers are killing and maiming, sometimes even through drink or the negligence of mobile phone use, and being given fines which are smaller than this.

Moreover, even at £100, the fine is double the £50 fine for non-serious parking offences and still nearly 50% more than the £70 fine for serious parking offences, including parking in bus stops and parking on pedestrian crossings and outside schools. Yet even at this level, these fines are processed as civil offences, not criminal ones.

This PSPO will undoubtedly be met with civil resistance, and the opportunity to go to court will attract attention and it will highlight the complete and utter incompetence which has been displayed by Coventry City Council in recent months when it comes to looking after the basic needs of some of the city’s most vulnerable road users.

Meanwhile, attempts to impose the same fine structure for begging also show the callous nature of how the council is currently thinking. Moreover, the council has completely failed to understand the difference between a societal annoyance and behaviour which actually puts people in danger, namely careless and dangerous driving, and the development of  a road network which does little to prevent it.

Out groups

In respect of skateboarding, another “out group” activity, whilst I can understand that this upsets some people, there is just no evidence whatsoever that it poses a significant accident risk. The last case I can find of a skateboarder actually killing a pedestrian goes back to 2011, and this was in California on an open road, not in a public square with no slopes.

Pedestrians in the city centre are of course entitled to feel safe, but it has been suggested that cycling should be banned because “senior citizens are using bus stops during the daytime hours”. The solution to this problem is not to pit one vulnerable road user against another, but instead to provide a safe environment for all, including bypasses around the bus stops where needed. In the meantime, it is not acceptable to fine people for cycling in these areas as a means of covering up the council’s own choice not to invest in safe road layouts.

As long as I walk around Coventry City centre and see cars parked on pavements, cars parked in bus stops, drivers whizzing through so-called shared space with phones in hand, and perhaps worst of all, cars repeatedly blocking the emergency exits of the SkyDome complex in Spon St, then antisocial cycling, pales into insignificance compared to these very serious issues.

This whole process should be rejected in its entirety.

The fact that this is being done in the name of a Labour controlled council should leave party members utterly ashamed of themselves.

One thought on “Coventry PSPO is an embarrasment to the Labour movement

  1. As you perhaps remember, I did a more detailed, more honest version of the council’s introduction to this vexed subject. I thought it appropriate to put it here. This is what the ‘official’ document actually said to me.

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    We would like to know what you think about introducing a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in the city centre to try and reduce certain types of anti-social behaviour, including measures to tackle problem buskers and those that beg.

    The council has the option to create a PSPO under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and if it is implemented, it would mean that offenders would be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) or Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND), whichever is appropriate and legal.

    We did it recently in one of YOUR parks and the local residents say they love it. In the park the order prevents the very thing parks were created for. Parks encourage groups of people to meet for the purpose of recreation and the local residents don’t like it. Therefore, the council’s cabinet decided to define a ‘group’ of people as 2 or more and banned them, so if you are seen walking through the park in a group of 2 you can be sure you are now breaking the law and are being watched.

    It goes without saying that the council would prefer NOT to get into the habit of introducing unnecessary rules which curtail personal liberty, in the belief that it is likely to lead ultimately to abuse of power, which will more seriously threaten law and order than the current concerns do. We understand why people moan about everything but we cannot get away with banning everything, much as many of us would like to.

    If you have managed to locate this introduction you are persistent and therefore we are keen to receive your views so please complete the online survey and read the background information.

    We haven’t made it easy to find this introduction because we are quite secretive about what we are up to but you managed it. Well done. Although it is located in the [‘Home’- ‘Parking, travel and streets’- ‘Street scene’] drawer, if you drill down from ‘Home’ to this point, you won’t find it. So, to find it you have to know where it is. Clever or what? You will come across a question which refers to the times the PSPO should apply. We don’t tell you what they are in this introduction and challenge you to find them. All we will tell you is that it can be done and if you have got this far you just might be determined enough to succeed so good luck.

    There are some questions and answers that you may find it useful to read before you respond.

    Why do we need a PSPO?

    Well to be honest we don’t. The police already have the legal right to enforce public space behaviour standards through Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs), particularly for offences involving a bicycle such as cycling on a footway, and Penalty Notices for Disorder (PNDs) for other antisocial behaviour. For example PND code DA04 covers Words/ behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress, which pretty much covers everything from sneezing unreasonably loudly, to terrorism.

    What happens if people can’t afford to pay the fines?

    It does seem rather silly to fine the homeless or genuine subsistence beggars. However if it is necessary to issue a FPN or PND. we will give additional time to people suffering hardship and put them in touch with any agencies that can support them. Where people refuse to pay, the council’s policy is to prosecute. Fixed penalty notices and Penalty Notices for Disorder are issued as a last resort following a warning.

    Isn’t this victimising beggars?

    Yes it is BUT we would prefer to help beggars get the support they need, whether that is shelter and financial support or combating an addiction they may have. If they refuse to accept this help, we may decide to prosecute. There’s a saying that you can lead a horse to water but not make it drink. The council believes that all horses CAN and WILL be made to drink.

    Why have you come up with these times to prevent cycling and skateboarding?

    Just in case you manage to find out what these times are, and we’re not letting on here, we have included this sample question and here is our answer.

    Because these are the times it would be easiest to enforce such an order without inconveniencing the enforcers or having to employ extra enforcers. Also these times are when older, more vulnerable people use the bus and bicycle to come into the city centre. We are not preventing cyclists using dedicated cycle paths. It will be just a bit unfortunate for those who rely on a bicycle as a mobility aid, that they will no longer be able to access parts of the precinct without breaking our new law. They can of course use a wheelchair or mobility scooter and that will be fine. Skateboarding has also been identified as a cause for concern between these times as it apparently frightens visitors, even though on the 22 March 2016 we boasted that the city centre ‘footfall’ had bucked the national trend and increased for the first time since 2010. We have dumped the cycling and skateboarding issues into the same basket, which makes it appear that we don’t understand that there is a huge difference between the skateboarding and cycling menace. However, some of us ARE vaguely aware that cycles are more controllable and are used by a vastly more diverse group of people than skateboards. Never-the-less we consider them identical as a city centre antisocial menace and encourage you to also think of them as identical, even though they are quite different.

    What if the offender is under 18?

    PNDs cannot be issued to children (under 18) and FPNs cannot be issued to children under 10 so parents or legal guardians would be issued with the Notice instead. Because it is usually children under 18 that cycle and skateboard in pedestrianised areas, without concern for others and because we are aware that parents and legal guardians will be very dismayed when they receive their treasure’s Notice, we will accompany these with ‘expert’ advice on how to avoid future Notices by taking the trouble to apply corrective therapies to their treasure’s abysmal behaviour, before their shenanigans land them in serious trouble.

    Do any other cities have a PSPO already?

    YOUR city is proud of its record of tolerance, peace, tranquillity, caring, understanding, reconciliation, racial harmony and everything else and naturally does not really wish to resort to unnecessary Public Space Protection Orders despite Oxford, Chelmsford, Newport, Chester, Southampton, Blackpool and Swindon having found it desirable and claim they ‘generally they appear successful’, which of course doesn’t really say anything meaningful but sounds promising

    How much will this cost to introduce?

    Nothing. In fact we’ll make it profitable for YOU. We can never have too much money so additional funding through fines benefits almost everyone. When we introduce the PSPO we will ensure that enough fines are collected to cover the additional signage and enforcement costs, including any legal fees and fines we will be charged when we are prosecuted for discrimination by partially disabled cyclists. We are not anticipating much in the way of prosecution for harassing partially disabled skateboarders but cannot be sure. There are sayings like, “You couldn’t make it up” and “Stranger things have happened”, so will issue lots of Notices just in case.

    Now, please complete the online survey. The correct answers to the 7 questions are: Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes although not necessarily in that order.

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    Disclaimer – The author, in keeping with our accountability standards and procedures, takes no responsibility for anything said or implied, ever said, will be said, or done or might ever have been done.

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