Busking and Public Space Protection Orders

Busking and Public Space Protection Orders

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.

This post was written by
Singer-Songwriter/Professional Street Performer/Campaigner/Wandering Minstrel

12 Comments on "Busking and Public Space Protection Orders"

  • Linda Simpson says

    If I didn’t busk I would have to give up trying to make my living through music and claim Jobseeker’s allowance. I suspect that there are many more musicians in the same boat… has anyone considered this aspect?
    Open mic nights can be fun but they are providing free entertainment and cutting down the number of places paying for live music.
    It is becoming increasingly difficult to make a living playing venues and busking is one of the ways of making it possible to stay ‘in the business’.
    I am so glad that you are there shouting for us.
    L 🙂

  • In all the time I have busked in Birmingham I have been made to feel so welcome by the public. I have been overwhelmed by the love and thanks I have received. I know that the vast majority of people want buskers there. The only hostility I have ever experienced is from the odd street warden. I except that there has to be consideration to local people.
    In the years I have lived in Birmingham I have watched the numbers dwindle . I remember as a child how it was such a vibrant community. I accept that there are issues but My fear is instead of trying to reach solutions the council will find it easier and more cost effective to label us criminals and call us anti – social. Sweet irony. I do it to be social.

  • The Keep Streets Live Campaign recognises that some performers (as you rightly say, the minority), cause issues with noise and nuisance. In the Liverpool Guidance enforcement action under the Environmental Health Act 1990 against persistent noise nuisance is one of the steps available to the local authority. That enforcement action should be a last resort and only after consultation with the busking community is only right and fair.

    Spontaneity is very important in the busking tradition. Access to public space on a democratic and open basis is equally important and what KSL seeks to protect. I am concerned at the way in which you are quick to scapegoat other performers for issues that arise on the streets, and also at the complacency with which you view the new public order legislation as it relates to busking. It is not clear to me whether or not you support the new public order legislation, but if you do you are in the company of authoritarian elements in the Home Office and Local Government. The former director of Public Prosecutions Lord McDonald has decried the legislation as an unwarranted state intrusion into the everyday freedoms of people, not just buskers but all who use public space.

    Birmingham’s policy with designated pitches, auditions and time limits is unworkably strict on paper which is why it has been largely ignored (including by you with your regular ‘off piste’ busks). Now the council intend to enforce it by using the new public order powers, apparently with your support under the naive assumption that you won’t be personally affected. Surely it would be far batter for the council to introduce a policy that works on paper and in practise and that has been agreed upon by consent?

    I notice that you chose to absent yourself from a recent meeting convened in Birmingham to discuss issues around street performing. That absence speaks volumes.

  • Jez Broun says

    Spot on – a good voice of reason. Busking is about music and entertainment. It is becoming increasingly a political platform for rebels without a true cause. Common sense as you say. Some pedal on greed and fear . There is no conspiracy. These laws have good intentions for the well being of everyone. Some buskers think they are a law to themselves and have no idea of the true meaning of freedom

    • Behind this rhetoric I see a double standard emerge. Music that you like or approve of qualifies as culture. So your amplifier, classical guitar, and choice of repertoire is ‘good’ but others who play and sing and use an amplifier/guitar and even play John Denver songs are ‘bad’.

      This dichotomising and divisive rhetoric is a stain on the busking community.

      Most buskers are trying to make a living doing what they enjoy. Some are better than others. As long as they behave reasonably I see no reason to pick and choose between them.

      An elitist contempt of the Everyman shines through your rhetoric, but busking exists for the Everyman and the streets are public spaces where people have a right to express themselves whether or not they please the self appointed cultural critics and gatekeepers.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by the words ‘you and your kind’.

      For the benefit of people reading these comments perhaps you’d like to expand upon your meaning which seems to have the characteristics of what sociologists would call ‘othering’ language.

      It seems that you spend an awful amount of time denigrating other performers and their attempts to organise themselves politically.

      I’m also confused by your conflation of John Denver with Oasis and either of them with X Factor culture.

      One might ask what has John Denver ever done to you?

      Or is your particular bug bear with folk/pop vocalists self
      Accompanying on the guitar?

      Whichever it may be I dedict territorial snobbiness masquerading as cultural criticism.

  • Jez Broun says

    It concerns me that jonny walker is exploiting the already existing chaos with Bath buskers with his activist ideology. He has little respect for the painstaking efforts I took as a buskers rep in talking with Bath officials to create a self regulating system which a few buskers have totslly abused. He has allowed comments accusing me of having a criminal record on this website. Well I will be sharing a panel with jonny walker at a public consultation in bsth where members of the police force will be present and I will set the record straight publicly. I have never seen do much hypocrisy and double talk as amongst buskers who control the streets. Some are worse than the duper rich. It is sad when some of the worst attitudes are displayed by really good musicians. I think egos distort reality.

  • Jez Broun says

    You are a hypocrite jonny. You allow the most defamatory comments to be made about me to remain on your website despite three requests from me to remove them and you have the arrogance to lecture me on how busking should be in Bsth which has been my home city for 40 years. There is no conspiracy theory, the law will occasionally be dealt out in a heavy handed way as in Canterbury but I can tell you busking is and has been. Incredibly free in Bath and it is the likes of jonny walker stirring up trouble just when the main trouble making mafia of zesty buskers have left is the real threat! Just play your music jonny.

  • Jez Broun says

    Hear hear

  • Jez Broun says

    The busking community is transient. Nobody is trying to ban buskers just anti social individuals. Amplification has got out of hand in many towns, technology allows minitiarisation and many buskers are just not aware of how loud they are. This is the central issue. But they should not be banned outright, so what is the solution.?

    • Jez Broun says

      I meant amps should not be banned outright as they are the lifeblood of creative street entertainment, loop machines etc.

    • Jonny says

      ‘These laws have good intentions for the well-being of everyone’

      The Antisocial Behaviour, crime and policing act 2014 is the most extensive re-writing of the relationship between local authorities, the police and the people they are paid to serve. Given that concerns about their far-ranging powers have been raised by Lord Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions, amongst many others including senior police, your comment betrays a cavalier disregard for the implications for cultural freedom that these laws represent, a very real threat in Bath where these laws are set to be implemented against all buskers as a social class rather than against individuals causing offence.

      There is already a law against statutory noise nuisance. The environmental protection act 1990 allows local authorities to prosecute people and confiscate musical instruments and serve noise abatement notices against intrusive buskers.

      This is the answer to noise nuisance, not a system of preemptive licenses/permits.

      Cultural freedom needs to be protected against the intrusion of coercive legislation.

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