Friday, August 10, 2007

Sterile Neighbourhoods Act

A couple of weeks ago, some people organised a community event called Hillaballoo in Telegraph Hill Park, New Cross. They were unlucky with the weather - it rained all day - but a steady stream of people came through and enjoyed the views from a camera obscura set up in the park. In time honoured local tradition, the event was publicised with flyers in the area put up on trees. One of the organisers has now been cautioned by Lewisham Council for putting up the posters, and told that any further occurrences could face a fine of £75 a poster. Apparently the new Cleaner Neighbourhoods Act forbids such things. Following the suspension of The Montague Arms' music licence for similar offences, it seems that the Council has launched some kind of zero tolerance campaign against posters.

The trees in the area are mostly hardy London planes and their bark is certainly robust enough to cope with staples and drawing pins, so I don't think there's a green argument here. For years they have functioned as a kind of community newspaper, carrying news of lost pets, meetings, car boot sales, gigs and other events in local schools, pubs and community centres. I have never seen this abused by people mass flyposting for commercial advertising, and if people do put up something out of character they just get pulled down - a kind of communal editing of the local street paper. It will be a real loss to the area if this is destroyed.

Lewisham has apparently proposed a community notice board as an alternative, but unless there are lots of them this will hardly suffice. The point about the trees is that they are located all over the place and seen by people as they walk around, unlike say a board in a park which only a minority will see. The point is also that there should be a public sphere in which people can communicate with each other without needing to fill in forms or otherwise seek the permission of the Council or other authorities.

This is not just a Lewisham issue - the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 gives powers to Councils to impose on the spot fines for flyposting, dogs, noise etc. Most of these things were already covered by previous legislation, so people could be prosecuted if the offence was serious. Now they don't need to go through the trouble of actually involving the courts where evidence can be challenged. Lewisham do however have discretion in how they implement the Act.

Everybody wants 'cleaner, greener, safer neighbourhoods' (to use the Government jargon) but do we really want sterile neighbourhoods where every social interaction is regulated by the local or national state and harmless community posters are banished? Please don't tell me this is making my neighbourhood safer - there were three burglaries in my road last week and my partner had her handbag snatched! One of the things that does make communities safer is a flourishing civil society where people meet each other, talk to each other and look out for each other. Precisely the kind of things that events like Hillaballo encourage. But if people can't promote them with posters, how are we even going to know they're happening?


Archeology of the Future said...

I'm living on Telegraph Hill these days, and the posters on trees is one of the things that makes the area.

Can we get a campaign going to ensure that the act isn't implemented with inflexible stupidity?

Maybe a bit of letter writing etc?

I'd be up for it (drop me a line).

Transpontine said...

The Council will no doubt argue that they are responding to complaints, and there is always somebody who will complain. But I agree it should be possible to get the Council to be more accommodating. If they persist with this they will have to fine such criminal gangs as the Telegraph Hill Festival, the Friends of Edmund Waller primary school and students putting on gigs in the local pub. Perhaps start with local councillors?

Unknown said...

I completely agree with this.
I've attended countless events that I would've never heard about if it hadn't been for the ubiquitious Telegraph Hill tree posters. I've also pinned up a few myself.
One thing we can do is make sure that we don't leave contact information, phone numbers & email addresses on the posters for now.
Carry on posting!

max said...

Maybe a petition asking for some common sense could do.

Archeology of the Future said...

There's been a poster pinned to the trees asking people to look out for a lost black and white cat.

Yesterday I noticed that there's an answering poster saying that a black and white cat has been found and is at the Celia Hammond Sanctuary.

Someone better call the council, there's some thoughtless lawbreakers around.