Wait, don’t go!
Yes, I know this looks like the last thing you’d fancy reading about, but I promise bits of it are worthy of your time. At least, worthy if you think that kids in Glasgow shouldn’t be banned from learning to ride bikes on the grass, or if you object to people being banned from public spaces solely on the say-so of the director of Glasgow Council.
There’s also some pretty crucial stuff if you beat carpets for a living, but that probably appeals to a smaller audience…
What’s going on?
You’re still here? Awesome. Give me a second to set the scene – I’ll only mention two pieces of legislation. Thanks to Morningsider on the CCE forum for most of the wording…
Back in 1982 the Civic Government (Scotland) Act was created. Section 112 of that document allows local authorities to make ‘management rules’ for public parks (and any other public land they manage). You can be expelled from land by a local authority officer for breaching these rules and excluded for up to a year, by Order (with a capital O, so you know it’s serious business). Failure to comply with a request to leave or breaching an exclusion order is an offence, punishable by a fine of up to £50.
In 2003 the world-leading Land Reform (Scotland) Act was passed, ‘formalising the tradition of unhindered access to open countryside’ (amongst some other things). It truly is world-leading; in this country you have astonishingly strong access rights to almost all land and water, provided you’re not using motorized transport and are behaving considerately.
I’ll call these two ACTS CGA and LRA for the rest of this. References to particular bits will be in brackets.
Interaction between the Land Reform Act and the Civic Government Act
How the LRA and CGA play together is not too complicated.
The LRA is deliberately meant to be very broad, recreational guaranteeing access of the public on foot or by non-motorised transport to the vast majority of land and water in Scotland (the only exclusions are here). From what I’ve read, no-one realised quite how powerful this was going to be in urban areas until it was published – for example, it’s the reason that cycling in pedestrian areas is rarely an offense in Scotland. It is also ‘the duty of the local authority to assert, protect and keep open and free from obstruction…any route…or other means by which access rights may reasonably be exercised’ (LRA 13 (1)). They may institute and defend legal proceedings to ensure this is the case (LRA 13 (3)).
I need to talk for a sec about byelaws. Byelaws are a way for local councils to put in place laws above and beyond those set out by parliament. Clearly this is a big deal, so there’s some pretty chunky approval and review processes in place to prevent abuse by power hungry government officials. Glasgow currently has two byelaws: one requiring children under the age of 16 years old to have a permit before working; and one banning the consumption of alcohol in public places.
Fun fact: this alcohol ban does not apply between 6pm and 6am over New Year’s Eve. Make the most of it – this is the only time in the year you can have a beer with your BBQ!
Back to byelaws. The LRA has two big rules:
- Any pre-2003 byelaws involving for public access to land must be made consistent with the Act by 2005 (LRA 30 (b)).
- Councils may then limit access rights in parks and other areas via the mechanism of byelaws, providing the appropriate approval process is followed AND these are reviewed every ten years.
Management Rules are not mentioned. You can either take that to mean:
- Crack on guys! The LRA is important enough to enshrine within national law and require any restrictions via byelaws to go through a complicated parliament-level approval process, but you can absolutely cut out swathes of it with your internally rubber-stamped Management Rules; OR
- No chance. If you want to change the LRA, do it properly via byelaws and justify your actions. Management Rules cannot restrict access under the LRA
Actually, there’s also a third option of ‘whoops, no-one really thought about this’. That’s where my money is.
I get all that. What’s going on right now?
Glasgow Council’s Park Management Rules are currently out for consultation. Current rules are here, proposed ones are here. There’s whole chunks of stuff restricting public access which I’ll talk about in the rest of this article – if that bothers you, now is the time to start lobbying for changes.
Final aside before the good stuff; when we say Glasgow Council we mean Land & Environment Services (or LES), who are in charge or all roads, open spaces, recycling and that sort of stuff. More on them in another post, as some of their behaviour recently has been distinctly…dodgy (starting construction work whilst public consultations are still going on, not releasing plans for consultations, etc.)
What are the current park rules about?
Remember before we even consider these park rules that you’re still bound by the LRA. If I were to summarise the LRA in a single sentence, it would be;
You’ve got recreational access to most land and water unless you behave like a tit, and providing you’re not using a motorized vehicle.
I reckon I should write legislation.
It’s really quite a cunning rule. ‘Behaving like a tit’ includes littering, unduly damaging the ground, going too fast near others, not being in control of your dog, and other obvious tit-like activities. As soon as you’re being a tit, you have no access.
These are the current rules.
They’re basically a whole bunch legalese on some pretty obscure topics, some of which unnecessarily duplicates the LRA. For example, I’m specifically banned from using my local park (Queens Park) as an aerodrome, nor can I ‘beat, shake, sweep, brush or cleanse any carpet, rug, mat or other article’ without prior written permission from the imposingly-named Director.
Dramatic pause for the mental image of the dark suited Director standing on his glorious wood flooring, rubbing his hands as the carpet-beaters of Glasgow are banished to the streets. “Be gone, shakers of mats!”, he cries.
There’s also a ‘Glasgow Parks Code’, which consists of the key points lifted from the rest. Very lightly paraphrasing:
- 5 mph ALL VEHICLES/CYCLES. (their bold/capitals)
- Enjoy the trees, plants and wildlife but leave them for others to enjoy also.
- Cyclists are welcome in the park, but only on tarred footpaths and at a safe speeds. Take due care around other park users.
- Dogs are welcome if they are kept on a lead and under control (the latter is defined as being able to hear and respond to commands to heel, etc)
- Dog fouling is punishable by £500 fines.
- Use the litter-bins provided or take litter home.
- Drinking alcohol is not permitted (the words ‘you untrustworthy jakies’ are not included, but implied)
Let’s not talk about any of that yet. Proposed rules:
What are the key changes with the proposed rules?
There isn’t a code with the new rules, although LES might add one in later (probably when you’re not looking, based on past performance). In general, stuff remains the same, but with a few sneaky differences or wording changes.
The speed limit for cycles remains at 5 mph, but is now ‘should’ rather than ‘must’. You can still only cycle on tarmac or ‘designated cycle tracks’. No, your child may not cycle on the grass. Even though the LRA says that they can and enshrines the fact in law. Glasgow Council says they must not, and if they do, they’ll be banned from the park.
The vehicle speed limit has been doubled to 10 mph, because everyone knows that being run over by a council lorry is less dangerous than a bicycle.
Moving on, previously the rules said this:
The Council reserves the right in respect of any park to refuse admission to any person, group, body or organisation and its decision to do so shall be final. The 2003 [Land Reform] Act gives the public the right of responsible access to parks and people are expected to comply with the responsibilities outlined in the Code.
I don’t know how to interpret the contradiction there, and presumably neither did LES, because it now says:
An Authorised Officer of the Council may refuse admission to any person, group or organisation to any park and his decision to do so shall be final. Unauthorised gatherings may be dispersed in terms of Rule 3.3. (which allows council officers to expel, exclude, fine, and call in police backup)
This is presumably there to allow the Director to break up the annual Teddy Bears Picnic held for the kids of the Carpet Beaters and Cleansers Association. Note how they’ve dealt with the conflict with the LRA by pretending it doesn’t exist.
The LES Director can also block access to the park for any gathering of over twenty people that doesn’t have prior written approval. Police backup can be requested if necessary. The purpose of the gathering doesn’t matter due to some properly dodgy self-reference; your group of more than twenty people can be blocked if you break the rules, and if there’s more than twenty of you the rules are automatically broken. I mean, there’s more than 20 people at a decent family gathering!
You’re still allowed to use the waterways for swimming, kayaking, etc; but the reference to the LRA has been stripped out here as well.
In fact, the only mention of the LRA within the entire new rules is as a definition of ‘Code’ within the interpretation section. That’s it. The entire guiding light to public access in Scotland removed completely.
Other minor additions;
- You’re specifically allowed to Geocache, providing you follow the Geocache Code (which is actually pretty sensibly written).
- No use of radios, musical instruments, etc.
- No model aircraft.
- No commercial activities (like fitness clubs or paid dog walking) without prior written approval.
Why should you care?
Let me twist the question: I care because I believe that in limiting public access to our own parks, Glasgow Council is ignoring both the spirit and ethos of the Land Reform Act, and possibly the legal side as well.
I care because I want kids to be able to cycle on the grass without a busybody council official threatening their parents.
I care because I don’t like the idea that someone can be banned from a public space without any need for oversight, or any chance of debate.
I care because the council is giving themselves the rights to disperse any group of over twenty people, gathering for whatever purpose.
I’m well aware that it’s massively unlikely that the council is going to start enforcing some of these on every occassion. Why not strip it out completely then? Whoever drafted the proposed new Management Rules has looked carefully at each clause and either removed it, or decided ‘no, that might be useful at some point, let’s keep it in’.
Glasgow Council need to be completely clear on three points:
- What legislation they believe allows them to limit the Land Reform Act via Civic Government Management Rules.
- In every instance where the LRA has been limited, exactly why they believe that limitation is in the best interests of the people of Glasgow.
- Why they have included vaguely defined and broad-reaching powers for the Director of Glasgow Land & Environmental Services to ban people and groups of people from public spaces, with no need for justification, no mechanism for appeal, and when existing legislation (ASBOs, etc) is already in place to deal with disruptive behaviour.
What should you do?
Please read both the current and the proposed rules! It’s also worth a scan through the a guide to the Land Reform Act to see what’s already in place before Glasgow start messing around; there’s a decent one here.
If you believe that Glasgow Council and LES are overstepping the mark, let them know. The consultation on the Management Rules is open until the 14th February. I’m sure your councillors are also dying to hear from you.
A PS on the bits on vehicle speeds
I wrote this as part of a first draft, but then did some chopping and changing and decided it doesn’t really fit in the main body. Still, seems a shame to bin it completely:
Doubling the motorized vehicle speed to 10 mph is probably fine, although I don’t like how they ‘must not obstruct or risk causing injury or damage to other road users’ (6.2 of the new rules). Why not other park users? What about in places like Queens Park where council lorries are driven along the footpath, which by definition isn’t a road? Do pedestrians walking on the grass count? Is this just lazy writing, or has someone thought about park versus road and decided on the latter? Show your working, LES!
Similarly, why is the cycle speed limit not doubled in line with vehicles with an engine? I’d love to see the logic in allowing the more dangerous vehicles to travel faster… The use of ‘should’ is also really peculiar, as although cycles cannot be bound by speed limits on the roads, the Civic Government Act does allow councils to impose limits within parks. But ‘should’ isn’t a limit; it’s a guideline. You could also argue that because the Rules consistently differentiate between cycles and ‘vehicles’, the 10 mph limit for the latter does not apply to the former (this isn’t just playing with words – the enforcement of cycle speed limits in London parks relies on this distinction being valid). Maybe the intention is to not place a fixed limit on cycle speeds, but instead to provide a suggestion (5 mph) of how fast to travel around pedestrians?
This would actually be quite a nice approach, but my natural scepticism about the abilities of Glasgow Council when faced with active travel makes me think this isn’t how they intended it to work.