Westminster: Joint Statement

Joint Statement on Westminster City Council’s new proposals for the licensing of busking

 

We stand firmly against the proposals to criminalise unlicensed busking in the Westminster area, including Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Oxford Street and Trafalgar Square. 

 

We have attempted to engage with the council throughout the process and suggested proven, viable alternatives. It will have a devastating impact on the livelihoods of street entertainers in the area and their families if the proposed licensing scheme is introduced.

 

When people think of Covent Garden, they immediately think of the world-class levels of entertainment that are on offer in the form of street performers. When people think of the West End, they think of the amazing artistic and cultural scene that exists here. But these restrictions will make the West End essentially a “no-go zone” for buskers.

 

Anti-social busking benefits nobody, and we are not suggesting a free-for-all. But current legislation can easily be used against buskers causing a genuine nuisance. There are laws in place against amplification being used late at night, for example. The council claim a lack of resources and yet are setting aside over £200,000 over the next three years to implement a licence scheme that could be better spent on implementing the laws they’re currently ignoring.

 

During the worst crisis for the arts in living memory, we call on Westminster Council to scrap their plans for licensing and work with street performers to create a system that works for everyone. 

 

Signed by:

  • The Musicians’ Union
  • Equity
  • Keep Streets Live
  • Covent Garden Street Performers Association
  • Westminster Street Performer Association
  • The Busking Project

London: Concern at Christmas

London: Concern at Christmas

Buskers in London this Christmas are facing an uncertain future with continuing crackdowns on licences, closure of pitches, bans on amplification, and seizures of CD’s and equipment.

If proposed restrictions in Westminster go ahead there will be virtually no viable and publicly accessible locations for performers almost anywhere across central London, with an area from Hammersmith & Fulham across to Tower Hamlets and up to Camden effectively off-limits.

In an effort to combat this, Westminster Street Performer Association have held meetings to encourage more efficient self-regulation and show that it is the Council’s inaction and inability to deal with issues that is causing friction in popular busking locations such as Leicester and Trafalgar Squares. They can be contacted at LondonWSPA@gmail.com

Keep Streets Live has been looking a developing a City-wide strategy towards street performance, recognising that whatever happens in one place has a knock-on effect in others. Busking bans in Shepherds Bush for example several years ago pushed performers into Kensington causing over saturation and complaints, leading to similar bans in RBKC. We are now seeing many of those buskers pushed into the already busy pitches in the West End. Inevitably reducing available space increases pressure and conflict for both buskers and other stakeholders.

“I feel here we now have the bones of a London-wide grassroots performers group, which will be able to take a more co-ordinated and holistic approach to busking across the capital rather than seeing pitches and issues in isolation. If this is something which you’d like to be part of please check out the Keep Streets Live in London Facebook group.”-Chester Bingley (Director)

Our petition against the busking bans in Kensington has now attracted around 2,000 signatures so please Sign Here

Worry in Westminster

Worry in Westminster

It seems that we are entering worrying times in Westminster, and that the Council are moving towards proceeding with a licensing proposal.

Despite our better efforts, including some great work by our former Director Dave Southern, it seems that Westminster feel that the Street Performers’ Association which we revitalised is not doing enough to deal with problems on the ground which amount to 2,000 complaints about busking annually.


For whatever reason the plan put in place at the meeting we attended earlier in the year has not been implemented, so cannot be deemed to have failed. We were promised extensive support in talking to other local stakeholders to make them aware of the new complaints procedure that would be routed directly to performers who were pitch-side and able to respond instantly but this support never materialised. Westminster SPA put together a website, code of conduct and offered free membership of the SPA to all who supported and agreed to abide by the code.

Westminster are making promises that it will be ‘performer led’ but these in practice are worthless. The Council themselves have ultimate authority over the process and licensing under Section V is a one-way contract where performers are legally bound, under threat of criminal prosecution, to accept whatever conditions are imposed. The result of the proposal is a simple ‘divide and rule’ scenario, creating two tiers of performers; one of which is entitled and legalised and the other marginalised and excluded.

The fact that proposals have been changed unilaterally by WCC indicates that their intentions are not to be trusted and is deeply troubling, although ironically this fact has lost them the support of the few performers who were on board with the license, unified our community and strengthened our campaign. The recent incident involving Sammi Jay where an enforcement officer unlawfully seized her CD’s has also fostered more mistrust of the Council.


KSL can vouch for the effectiveness of CPN’s (or other ASB legislation) in dealing with problem buskers because we deal with many cases where they have been issued. Even in cases where KSL believe there are genuine grounds for appeal most buskers do not have the inclination and/or funds to go through the court process. In fact our main concern has been that Community Protection Notices are too powerful a tool and leave performers vulnerable to abuse.


We firmly believe that a ‘crackdown’ of a few days will deal with the perpetrators, and that this would probably have to be repeated once every few months. Simple afternoon pitch walk with your enforcement Officers, Police and performer representatives would suffice. This seems very resource-light in comparison with licensing which is bureaucratic, open to legal challenge, will attract adverse publicity and disproportionately affect those who are NOT causing a problem.  And of course there will still be the additional duties of enforcement on the ground to deal with which will be increased as in addition to genuine problems there must also be checks on those who are busking responsibly but simply do not have a license.


Westminster have access to a wealth of experience in the form of Keep Streets Live, The Musicians’ Union, Equity, Busk In London and others. We’re currently working successfully with Local Authorities in dozens of UK towns/cities, and see no reason why this couldn’t be the same. Between us we really should be able to make something work, and I believe the chances of that are greatly increased by Westminster working with us rather than against us.

Please support the Westminster SPA Crowdfunder to help keep their website active, and if anyone can attend the next meeting in London on 19th November that would be fantastic.