Friday, 25 October 2013

Please Fill In Our Survey About What We've Already Told You To Think

This is another post about NCC's attitude to street drinking, although hopefully a bit shorter.

A couple of weeks ago NCC issued a short survey on its website about street drinking. I'm not sure how long it will be up there so I'll be using screengrabs to illustrate my points below.

Here's a shot of the introductory page. As far as I'm aware this is the only route into the survey unless someone sends you a direct link (click for bigness)

And now here's the survey they want you to fill in (again, clicky)

So, question 1 asks you how much of a problem street drinkers are, right after telling you -

"People drinking on the streets can lead to antisocial behaviour and other problems in our communities...

Problems such as littering, noise and public indecency can be made worse by the disorderly conduct of those under the influence of alcohol."

Question 2 asks what problems are connected with street drinking right after... well, you get the idea.

The next questions do ask specifically what issues you've faced in your area in the last 12 months. After ticking lots of boxes what are people going to do when, on thinking about it, their only contact with street drinkers was seeing a bloke walking up the road with a tinny on, otherwise completely minding his own business?

Such a massively leading introduction is as compromising as asking blatantly leading questions in the survey itself. The result is that the results will virtually no credibility at all.

I bet you they still use it to back up the DPPO though.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Open Spaces Everywhere but Not a Spot to Drink

Disclosure; I like a drink. In fact I'm having a drink while writing this now. I went to the 'Robin Hood Beer Festival' and enjoyed heavily hopped strong ales (unfined ones only, I can out beersnob CAMRA). I drink at home, in my garden, in pubs, round friends' houses but I can't honestly remember the last time I drank in an outdoor public place. Of course, the fact that I can't remember it...

So anyway, today I'm writing about Designated Public Places Orders because NCC has embarked on the first steps of establishing one across the entire city and I don't think I like it. There already are small DPPOs in various parts of the city but, to paraphrase Niemoller, when they came for Hyson Green I did nothing. And when they came for me, I thought I'd better write a blogpost.

Oh yes, I should explain what a DPPO is. Broadly speaking, if a local authority thinks that boozy ne'er do wells are making a nuisance of themselves in a particular area, it can make an order making that area as a Designated Public Place. Once it is in place, this gives the police, PCSOs and CPOs the right to order anyone drinking alcohol in the designated area to stop doing so and to hand over any alcohol they might have with them. If you refuse either without 'reasonable excuse', you are guilty of a criminal offence. It's not the actual drinking that matters but the refusing to stop and give it up that lands you in trouble. One last thing to note is that whether a DPPO is made or not, police have separate powers to stop underage drinkers and confiscate their alcohol.

My first thought was that this would hardly be popular with nice middle class voters who like to pop down the Arboretum with a picnic and a crisp Chardonnay. But no, JoCo's introductory report explains that it's not about them -

"Any powers arising from an Order are not intended to disrupt peaceful activities, for example families or groups having a picnic and consuming alcohol in the Proposed Area, but are solely intended for use as a control measure for the consumption of alcohol in public places by those who cause anti-social behaviour..." 

So the rozzers have discretion, they can pick and choose who they march up to and demand surrender of some of their property. That's completely reasonable don't you think? I mean what could possibly go wrong? I'm sure that black people will be treated with EXACTLY the same level of discretion as they receive when our wonderful police execute their stop and search powers for example. As for CPOs...

What's also interesting, and not a little ironic, is that at the same full council meeting a motion praising 'well run' pubs as community assets, lamenting the loss of local pubs, bigging up the beer festival and local breweries and continuing the battle against the sale of 'strong alcohol' and other 'irresponsible drinking' stuff was passed.

Ok, in isolation there really isn't a word in that motion that I would disagree with but, looking at the wider picture, including DPPOs, it gives the impression of a mixed message. It also has a nasty taste of the double standards. I'll come back to this in a sec.

One of the things I slightly object to is this rather romantic notion of the great traditional British boozer. I'm sorry but it's 95% bollocks. A hell of a lot of pubs are simply meat markets, pre-fight gatherings or hopelessly garish theme parks. Let me tell you about one 'local' 'community' pub.

When I first moved into my current address I thought I'd check out the local scenery. Food shopping was the priority but as I walked round the corner, barely 300 yards from my home, I came across a pub. That's handy, I thought, an actual 'local'. On getting a bit closer, for some reason I started thinking that actually, I probably wouldn't be going in that particular pub after all. There was something about it. And I never did.

About 15 months after this a young chap had his brains blown out in the car park. Turns out this particular pub was unofficially under the control of Nottingham's favourite Robin Hoods the Gunns and somebody they didn't like overreacted to a perceived sleight. You'll have read about the consequences. The pub was called the Sporting Chance and is one of those 'neighbourhood pubs' that have closed down. In this case bulldozed and a housing estate built over it.

The point I'm trying to make here is that pubs as drinking venues aren't always great. I know the motion specifies 'well run' pubs but clearly nobody thought the Chance was badly run because it was still trading quite happily until what happened. I know for a fact it wasn't the only pub the Gunns held sway over either.

The other point is that, even after spending the evening in a 'well run' pub, you don't suddenly sober up once you walk out the door. It's not the where that matters, it's the 'how much' and the 'what sort of person are you when drunk'. Drinking in an excellent pub does not guarantee an absence of anti-social behaviour, as anybody making their way through Slab Square late at night will tell you.

As for the 'strong alcohol' objection, most of the beers I drank at the NCC sponsored beer festival were in the range of 6-7% and utterly fantastic they were too. Both Brewdog and newcomer the Ned Ludd sell beers with a strength in excess of 10%. But as these venues are the preferred destinations of the Sherwood 'Laddie Daddies' who have a lot of money to spend in the City Centre presumably none of that matters.

To bring it all back here, my view is that NCC's attitude to alcohol is that there is a right way to do it and an undesirable way. Middle class people sipping a crisp white in the park or lads after football practice quaffing craft ales in an oak beamed saloon is fine. Anything else means trouble. This distinction particularly applies if you dare to drink outside a controlled indoor environment. I believe that we are talking serious sledgehammer and nut territory here.

Is the 'undesirable way' always so bad? Just because you happen to be a group of young people in the park, maybe playing frisbee or something and *horrors* audibly enjoying yourselves, does that justify the CPO marching over and nicking all your booze? Everywhere in the city? Cos I bet that's what will happen. And from the opposite viewpoint, what about the family with the picnic, is normalising drinking in front of young children always ok? Why are they apparently exempt?

I cannot help suspecting that those who fall foul of DPPO orders will be of certain social, maybe racial groups. There appears to be no checks or balances on the police or CPO use of discretion beyond the 'reasonable excuse' proviso, which none of the NCC documents seem to mention. And you will be faced with the option of a fixed penalty notice or going before those noted liberals the Magistrates Court to argue that, although you were just quietly reading a book in the park with a bottle of Strongbow, the fact that you were bothering nobody is a 'reasonable excuse' not to hand over some of your property to the police. If you don't convince them you get an even bigger fine. Best of luck if you do find yourself in this position.

Like I say, sledgehammer and nut, like pretty much all of the 'Anti-Social Behaviour' agenda. This is especially true of the 'whole city' aspect of the plans. Interestingly, the main justification for the citywide thing is -

"Unless the powers are adopted across the whole city, there is a high likelihood the problems experienced will continue and are likely to continue to be pushed from areas covered by a DPPO into neighbouring areas across the City..."

What do you think neighbouring local authorities think about the possibility of displacement of city drinkers to their areas? Presumably they will be 'consulted'.

It's not good enough is it? I'm open to the idea that DPPOs are potentially a good idea in some local areas, mostly temporarily. as one of the tools to deal with a particular problem. But setting one up across the entire city smacks of a more authoritarian agenda, one where NCC cannot be bothered to deal with difficult problems so picks an easy solution off the shelf. They need to stop doing that.