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Potemkin Villages*


Westminster Council have long had a problem with homelessness. I’m sure you will recall the Westminster Council’s housing leader’s letters to Grant Shapps of last year, imploring him to let them discharge duty by offering an out of borough private tenancy. Then there was Westminster’s prediction that homelessness from private accommodation would double as a result of the coalition’s housing benefit proposals.

Now Westminster have come up with a rather different solution to the problem of street homelessness and rough sleeping. Under a proposal now out for consultation, Westminster intend to ban it. Draft bye laws ban ‘lying down’, ‘sleeping’ and ‘depositing bedding’ in an area of Westminster around Victoria, down to Vauxhall Bridge Road and over to Buckingham Place and Birdcage Walk. And, for good measure, ‘distributing free food’ would also be banned, a move aimed directly at soup runs. On summary conviction, the rough sleeper or soup kitchen volunteer would be fined.

Pubs would still be able to give away nuts outside, apparently, which is nice.

Westminster generously observe that this would not prevent people from sleeping rough ‘elsewhere in London’, even ‘elsewhere in Westminster’ (although probably not for long?).

We await Grant Shapps reaction with interest. While I may well have considerable doubts about large swathes of Mr Shapps policies, it has to be said that he has long held a principled view that street homelessness was under recorded, and was not being approached adequately. In office, he has taken steps on changing and improving the recording of street homelessness. For that he should be applauded. Now, does Westminster’s contemptible, mean minded, short sighted, and pointless act of street cleansing appeal to the minister?

One also wonders, should the proposed byelaw go through, exactly how long it would be till it faced a challenge in the Admin Court.

* For those whose history of 18th century Russia is a little rusty, see here. There are mutters that the forthcoming formal broadening of the Royal gene pool may have something to do with Westminster’s proposed social OCD. No cardboard or sleeping bags to sully the royalist tourists’ views of London. That seems a little petty for such a vindictive little bit of local legislation.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.


  1. XF

    To be fair the impression I have ever had of Westminster is that it is the Stepford Borough.

    They farm out homeless people elsewhere because they don’t want Mayfair hoteliers shouting at them for putting paups in their rooms, most likely. They charge extortionate amounts for premises licences applications, so I’m told, for premises types they don’t approve of (anything involving fruity young women disrobing, for instance), and they have a history of considering the BBFC to not go far enough when it comes to classifying films.

    I think their fixation with image goes back a lot further than just this. I count the days till they try to asbo someone for chewing gum.

  2. Val Stevenson

    There is a meeting tomorrow – Thursday 3 March, 6.30, 22-25 Finsbury Sq EC2A 1DX – at Housing Justice to discuss the proposals. Legal opinion would be very welcome! HJ coordinates the London soup runs and winter shelters. The Pavement will be covering the issue.


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