It's time to end Kettering's draconian skateboarding ban, say campaigners

Skateboarding in certain areas of the town could land you with a criminal record

By Sam Wildman
Thursday, 17th June 2021, 7:00 am
L-R: Travis Clayton, Clark Mitchell, Dez Dell, Dan Whitney and Callum McRobbie.
L-R: Travis Clayton, Clark Mitchell, Dez Dell, Dan Whitney and Callum McRobbie.

Next month, a group of skateboarders will make history when the sport makes its Olympic debut in Japan.

But more than 5,000 miles away in Kettering jumping on a skateboard in certain areas of the town centre can potentially land you with a criminal record and a fine of up to £1,000.

The now-defunct Kettering Borough Council became the first authority in England to ban skateboarding under a controversial Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) in 2016 despite huge opposition, a petition with more than 3,000 signatures and a public row which led to one councillor quitting the ruling Conservatives.

Signs warn people not to skateboard.

Five years on - and with nobody prosecuted for skateboarding - campaigners are renewing their efforts to have the ban dropped.

Cllr Clark Mitchell (Lab), who skateboarded in his youth and now sits on Kettering Town Council, said: "It's draconian. It's like taking an AK-47 to stamp on a walnut.

"It's the most ridiculous, over-the-top measure I've seen."

Under the laws using a skateboard in the Market Place and Morrisons car park is prohibited at any time. Police or council wardens can decide to punish people by issuing a £100 fixed penalty notice, which can lead to a prosecution if the ticket isn't paid.

Skateboarding is banned in the Market Place.

Breaching the PSPO can also be deemed a criminal offence under anti-social behaviour laws, leaving people potentially facing a summary fine of up to £1,000.

Travis Clayton owns Illicit Skate Shop, just around the corner from the Market Place at the Yards shopping complex.

He said he has known people to have their skateboards confiscated over the years but said thinking people are "trouble" just because they have a skateboard is a pre-historic way to look at them.

The 31-year-old said: "I have to remind people not to ride their skateboard when they leave the shop because they could get in trouble.

Callum McRobbie in action. Picture by Dan Whitney.

"They almost laugh when I tell them because they're so taken aback that it could get them a fine.

"It just seems ridiculous and it is laughable to be honest. If there's six kids playing football they would just get moved on but if it's someone on a skateboard it's seen as a crime."

Kettering does have its own skate facilities, with a skate park off Grantown Close on the Ise Lodge estate.

But Geddington skateboarder Callum McRobbie, 31, said many youngsters are scared to use it because people loiter there, some with weapons. In 2019 a gun was pointed at a man with his child there.

Skateboarding is banned in the areas highlighted in yellow.

Callum, who used to enter competitions, said they are struggling to change the "generational" view that skateboarders are out to cause a nuisance.

He said: "I think the ban on skateboarding in the town is a bit extreme and a bit brash. As a skateboarder if you get asked to move on, you move on.

"You don't need to be threatened with a fine to do it. Other sports don't face that same threat - skateboarding is not a crime.

"There's kids out there spending their time sitting in McDonald's and having fights. That's where the focus should be, not on banning skateboarding."

The PSPO, which is now run by the new North Northamptonshire Council and also bans activities such as street drinking and begging, was extended for another three years in 2019 and is due to expire next year.

A consultation will take place ahead of its renewal where campaigners hope to make their voice heard and persuade councillors that the blanket ban on skateboarding is not needed.

The campaign has the backing of Cllr Dez Dell (Green), who was recently elected to Kettering Town Council and North Northamptonshire Council.

He said: "It's crazy that they've never fined anyone for skateboarding but that the ban remains.

"It's a redundant law and it doesn't need to be there. There's no point in it.

"The PSPO has some good parts to it, like rules on dog fouling which are actually beneficial. The ban on skateboarding is not one of them and should be removed."

Others have pointed to what they say is unfair treatment against skateboarding compared to other wheeled conveyances.

Under the PSPO the ban on skateboarding applies to all circumstances in the designated areas. But the ban in the same areas only applies to bikes, scooters and other wheeled items when they are being used in a manner that causes, or is likely to cause, nuisance, alarm or distress. Kettering has also been part of a pilot scheme for public e-scooters and e-bikes in recent months.

Kettering roller skater Pip Drage said roller skaters have been known to get an audience - and said it's stupid that skateboarders are treated differently.

And Kettering skateboarder Dan Whitney said: "If a kid is riding a bike or a scooter it's fine. If they're on a skateboard in the exact same area, they can get a ticket for £100. It's laughable."

A North Northamptonshire Council spokesman said: "The current PSPO is due to expire on 21 July, 2022, and the specific addition around the use of skateboarding [came] after complaints from members of the public.

"Whilst the PSPO has been in force, a number of the issues (including skateboarding) previously identified in the town centre have reduced.

"Any issues arising in these cases have been generally resolved informally which has prevented the need to issue any FPNs for these offences.

"Before the PSPO expires, there will be consultations, and these will be taken into consideration before the renewal and within this process restrictions can be added or taken out."

For Cllr Mitchell, who stood to be a councillor in 2015 because he was so outraged by the planned skateboarding prohibition, he hopes the authority will take note of people's concerns and end the ban.

He said Covid-19 has taught us the value of going outside and getting exercise, and that people should not be punished if they want to do this on a skateboard in the Market Place.

He said: "Around the country there are towns and cities where people are actively encouraged to get on a skateboard and get exercise.

"In Kettering, those who do it in the Market Place can be fined up to £1,000.

"We are in an Olympic year where skateboarding will feature and it feels like Kettering is going backwards."