Headlines: December 2nd, 2008

Councils say tough new powers that allow them to close premises that are a persistent nuisance to local communities will be used only as a last resort. English local authorities now have the right to shut down premises involved in persistent anti-social behaviour, bringing them into line with councils in Scotland who have been using a similar measure since 2004.

Under the new powers councils and the police can apply to magistrates’ courts to close privately owned, rented, commercial and local authority premises. The Premises Closure Order effectively extends powers which have been used successfully to close more than 1,000 so-called crack houses since 2004. In the same period councils north of the border have used their wider powers to shut down 26 premises, including a massage parlour in Strathclyde which was disrupting life for local people with constant visitors, kerb crawlers and harassment of women living nearby.

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said anti-social behaviour had no place in people’s daily lives. “The new premise closure order power will enable police forces and local authorities to close any premises – privately owned or rented accommodation – that cause significant and persistent disorder in the local community. That means no-one will be able to hide from the law if they cause serious nuisance to their neighbours,” she said.

Councillor Hazel Harding, who chairs the Local Government Association’s Safer Communities Board, said councils worked hard to keep their residents safe and the closure orders would be a useful weapon in helping them to create the kinds of places where people wanted to live. She added, “It’s important to be clear though, councils will only ever use these orders as a last resort and after giving people every possible warning. Town halls will always be careful to consider the effect that a premises closure order could have on children and vulnerable adults.”