A look into the Bristol drinking bans

A look into the Bristol drinking bans

Posted on: 24 May 2019

In a city which has long held reputation for being a forward-thinking, free and fun place, spirits have been hindered with the recent news that drinking a can in Castle Park and other Bristol locations could land you a £100 fine.


These restrictions are led by PSPO’s (Public Space Protection Orders) which essentially act to restrict behaviours, in areas believed to be affected negatively by such. Although many of the drinking bans in the city centre locations have actually been in place since 2013, they have only been strictly enforced now because the council and police believe anti-social drinking and criminal activity has increased in those areas, despite putting forward no actual evidence to support the claims. The public is in an uproar to also learn that the council have sold the rights to enforce the fines on the public to a private for-profit security company called 3GS.

3GS officer in Bristol

The counter-argument to the drinking bans is that while locations such as Castle Park could indeed be prime spots for anti-social or criminal behaviour, these issues are not new and the rest of the community shouldn't suffer for such. We ask: if crime has always been a problem in the centre then why have the bans not properly been enforced since 2013? Labour councillor candidate Matthew Hollinshead says “The reason behind it is council outsourcing - they sold the rights to enforce the issue to a private company called 3GS to help balance their books after the tenth year of conservative lead austerity."  Hollinshead also remarks that "the appropriate way to deal with it is through providing services for problem drinkers and adequate policing, and given they haven't talked about that, it all looks incredibly mercenary. That's why we have organised a light-hearted, fun protest to highlight the issue." Bristol Momentum Youth have organised a drink-in protest on Saturday 25th May in Castle Park, where hundreds are expected to attend.

Castle Park Drinking ban protest in Bristol

When asked about the reasons behind the drinking ban, the council responded “Making the city a cleaner, more pleasant place to live and work remains a top priority for both residents and the council and Public Space Protection Order (PSPOs) are used where particular behaviour is having a negative effect on the quality of life in certain areas."


There are 12 of these orders prohibiting street drinking in Bristol, including Castle Park, Park Street, The Floating Harbour and College Green. if you are caught, firstly the enforcement officer has to ask you to stop drinking, either you pour the drink away or leave the area. Should you fail to do this, they then issue you with a fixed penalty notice of £60 paid in 10 days and £100 within 14 days and court proceedings thereafter.


But since the ban came into action, problems with rule-breaking enforcement officers have already occurred. One young person Will, had his fine overturned “I was on College Green with my partner enjoying the sun when one of 3GS enforcers came along and told us we were receiving a fine. We were surprised because we had never heard of being fined for having a drink in Bristol’s parks before. The enforcement officer pointed us towards the PSPO which we had never heard of. On getting home we looked into the PSPO and realised that we should have been asked to leave the area or to pour our drinks away before we were fined, which did not happen! Because of this we challenged the fine and it was overturned. Others may not be so lucky. I am very concerned that a private company is being given free rein to take money from the citizens of Bristol and seems to be bending the rules to do so.”


In a city full of renters amidst a housing crisis, most people do not have gardens or access to outdoor space, so we rely on public parks to socialise and to simply have fun in nice weather. Many people cannot afford to pay a £60 fine within ten days let alone £100 thereafter, so predictions are that the most vulnerable members of society will be targeted and the courts will be unnecessarily inundated for this reason. Annie McGann from Save Bristol Nightlife raises a good point, noting “A group of young people drinking cans with dogs running around might be treated differently from mums having a picnic with kids, dogs and a bottle of prosecco and this is unfair.”


There are many issues surrounding the drinking ban, from limiting social freedom to threatening legal action for those who simply can't afford to pay the outrageous fines. Isaac from Bristol Momentum Youth who are organising the Castle Park protest says "This is just another step in eroding the use of public space. Having a few drinks with friends in an affordable setting should not be taken away. The simple joy of lying on the grass with a couple tinnies and enjoying the sunshine needs to be protected. The council should be trying to deal with the root causes of problem drinking not using over the top punishments."


For many, it seems that the drinking ban is being blanketed by “keeping the streets safe” when the real reason comes down to money. When freedom is taken for the sake of profit, especially by using threatening means, a city like Bristol is always going to fight. For a lot of people who work and live in the city, drinking in parks or spaces is the cheapest and most accessible way to spend time with friends and family, and the vast majority of people are respectful of the space -providing they clean up after themselves- which is in itself another issue. Supressing the community's social spaces won't solve the issue of anti-social behaviour, it may only spread it elsewhere. 


To find out more about the Castle Park protest on Saturday 25th May, head to the Facebook event here. We urge all attending to be respectful of the space and to clean up ALL rubbish!


To sign the petition to stop the drinking bans click here.


To look at all Bristol City Council PSPO's click here.

Article by:

Hannah Moll

Hannah recently graduated with a degree in English with Writing. She is an avid writer, freelancer and creative. She is currently writing her first full-length novel and a collection of poetry. Always out and about in Bristol's music scene, she attends music events on a weekly basis.