Anti-social street drinking - the Lib Dem Council's strategy

March 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Why are the Lib Dems set against the government's DPPOs?

"Designated Public Places Orders" were designed to curb night time loutish drinking outside pubs and clubs. They are not suitable for tackling the street life drinking problems which are spread across a wide area

Why is the wide area argument so important?

Because anti-social street drinkers have legs. Ban them in Mill Road and they are likely to move on to other streets in Romsey, Coleridge and Petersfield.

So why not simply extend DPPOs as and when the needs arise?

Because each order takes time to come into effect, on top of the time while the problem was building up to a level where a DPPO could be justified. It could take years to cover the city with these orders - and even so, we don't think they are effective.

Are the Lib Dems against DPPOs in principle?

Yes, in the Cambridge context we believe them to be ILLEGAL, IMPRACTICAL AND ILLIBERAL

Illegal? Why would the government urge you to do something that is illegal?

We took legal advice that DPPOs could not be used on a city wide basis. The government and our local MP disagreed. But now the government have admitted that we were right all along. DPPOs cannot be used across the city as a whole.

Why do you think they are illiberal?

DPPOs are a typical piece of Blunkett's Law. Rushed through and ill thought out. The orders give police the power to confiscate alcohol from anyone who is drinking within the area. That is ANYONE. There is no requirement under the law that the drinker has to be behaving in an anti-social way. That means anyone innocently caught having a drink in the street or on a park bench within the DPPO area can be targeted.

But surely the police will only confiscate the drink of troublemakers?

There are cases already of them confiscating drink from perfectly innocent people - a graduand in Oxford for instance. People who like to enjoy a harmless drink in the open air will be discourage from doing so, and why? - to stop a tiny minority of anti-social people with a drink problem

But what about drugs?

DPPOs give the police NO additional powers over drugs.

Why has there been so little action over street drinking in the last six months?

The city council passed its motion to introduce a city-wide byelaw in December. That followed three months during which the government, keen to support its discredited new orders, told us that we could have a city-wide DPPO instead. Our legal advice said we could not. We were right and now the government has finally admitted this. Thanks to the government and our local MP who are obsessed by these DPPOs,, months of time have been wasted.

Haven't these DPPOs been used successfully to tackle street life drinking in other cities?

No. There is a growing body of evidence that they have been either ineffective or move the problems to new areas. They are turning into a typical piece of Blunkett's Law.

If the Lib Dems had accepted the DPPOs, they could have been in effect in Mill Road by now. Why haven't they done this?

Because we don't think they will work. DPPOs are a SHUNTERS'S CHARTER. They simply move the problem from Mill Road to other areas.

Does this mean that the Lib Dems prefer to do nothing about anti-social street drinking?

Far from it. Our approach is to get the drinkers off the streets - not shunt them from one road to another. We also believe that the police already have plenty of powers to act. These include the recent Anti-Social Behaviour Orders which we are happy to support. Look at last night's Cambridge Evening News to see examples of persistent troublemakers being given banning orders by the magistrates.

What about the new dispersal order powers?

They may be part of the solution. The new powers do at least require there to be an anti-social behaviour reason intervene to disperse a group. Moreover they are renewable every six months so we will be able to monitor the way in which they are implemented.

By refusing to contemplate DPPOs, aren't you tying the hands of the police?

Hardly. The police already have over a dozen different powers under nine different statutes they can apply to curb anti-social street drinking. It is not a matter of new laws: it is a question of bobbies on the beat!

What are the key planks of the Lib Dem approach to the problem?

To ask the police to have more officers visible on the streets. You can have as many Blunkett laws as you like, but nothing will happen unless the police put officers on Mill Road and surrounding areas. As a city council we have paid for an anti social behaviour police officer to patrol Mill Road. We are also paying for more police community support officers. That is the main way to prevent problems. It is the way it worked with 'Operation Bergamot' in the city centre last year.

What about getting these troublemakers off the streets?

We couldn't agree more. That is why we urged the government to pay for a Wet Daycentre - a place where these people, many of whom have severe addiction and social problems, can go under strict supervision. But the government refused to pay and consigned these people to the streets.

Aren't the police on Labour's side?

Not at all. Their view is for the following order of priorities: 1. A city wide DPPO (now shown to be illegal so not an issue). 2. A city-wide Byelaw (as passed by the city council with overwhelming public support but currently held up by Blunkett's minions) 3. Small area DPPOs (Labour's position).

How will you address the anger of residents on Mill Road wanting to avoid a repeat of last year's problems?

By urging the police to use all of their powers including the new dispersal orders; by increasing the presence of officers on the beat in the area, by persisting with a city-wide byelaw; by urging the government to rethink its decision about a Day Wetcentre and by opening a new hostel as a refuge for those with drink-related problems.

How do you sum up Labour's demands for a DPPO?

They are looking for a magic bullet to solve the problem. DPPO will not deter the tiny band of people with severe drink problems from roaming the streets. The Lib Dems want a more holistic approach.

What would you like to do next?