The Keep Streets Live Campaign is a not for profit organisation that advocates for public spaces that are open to informal offerings of art and music. We are concerned that the provisions in the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 for local authorities to apply for Public Spaces Protection Orders to restrict ‘activities that carried out within the authorities area which have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality’ could easily be used to target buskers. The ‘reasonable grounds’ for introducing these new powers are so wide-ranging, all-encompassing and open to subjective interpretation that they might well be used to target informal performances of art and music on the grounds that some people don’t like buskers and find them annoying. In a House of Lords debate on January 21st Lord Clement-Jones, author of the Live Music Act 2012, sought reassurances from the government that the new legislation would not be used in an over-zealous way against musicians and street artists. Lord Clement-Jones asked ‘will local authorities ensure that these powers are exercised with proper consideration of the balance between freedom of expression and respect for private and family life, and will also point out the considerable existing body of nuisance and noise-abatement powers which local authorities already have to hand? Should we not be encouraging rather than discouraging busking, which is such an important part of our urban culture?’ The government response from Lord Taylor of Holbeach was that the legislation is aimed at ‘the antisocial minority who give street performers a bad name’. However, given that there is no requirement for judicial pre-authorisation for these new powers, they are wide open to abuse and the problems of differentiating between ‘the antisocial minority’ and ‘genuine performers’ are manifold.
In Birmingham buskers have been given letters stating that from October 2014 the police and local authority can apply for PSPOs against buskers and implying that these powers will be used if buskers don’t sign up to an extensive range of restrictions such as auditions, pre-booking only authorised spots and strict time limits on pitches. In this way PSPOs become a covert way of restricting freedom of expression under the pretense of protecting the quality of life of those in the locality. In reality local authorities have an enormous range of existing statutory powers which can be used to target noise nuisance and antisocial behaviour such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Public Order 1986. These new, additional powers have great potential for abuse and misuse and will need to be closely scrutinised in their application and challenged when necessary to ensure that vitally important civic and cultural freedoms are not lost with all the adverse implications for a free and democratic society.