Open Letter to Oxford’s ruling Labour Group against their coercive busking policy

Open Letter to Oxford’s ruling Labour Group against their coercive busking policy
Keep Streets Live is Campaigning Against Oxford Council’s plans to make ‘noncompliant busking’ a criminal offence 
Join our all day protest against Oxford’s coercive Public Space Protection Order tomorrow from 12pm outside Pret a Manger on Cornmarket:
https://www.facebook.com/events/749538838499756/752236524896654/
Sign our petition calling on Oxford to abandon its plans to criminalise buskers:
https://www.change.org/p/oxford-city-council-stop-attacking-our-freedoms-support-a-vibrant-street-culture-in-oxford
The following is an open letter to Oxford’s political leaders responding to their justification of the coercive busking policy:
 
Dear Oxford Councillors,
I have sent this message to Councillor Sinclair but feel its contents are very important and relevant to the political and cultural life of Oxford as a whole and deserve to be read by all the elected representatives at the Council
I had a useful and productive meeting with several Oxford Council Officers in April facilitated by Councillor David Thomas of the Green group at which I was able to clearly explain our position as a campaign group and why Oxford’s proposed course of action to target a Public Space Protection Order against ‘noncompliant’ buskers is so problematic. I had hoped that this meeting would help Oxford understand why the course of action they had proposed was disproportionate and contentious and that it would be quietly dropped as the plans to criminalise rough sleeping and feeding pigeons have already been put aside. We have also demonstrated a clear and workable alternative approach, a guide to busking in York drawn up by buskers, businesses and the local authority working together and targeting enforcement action against the small minority of buskers who cause genuine issues. I am attaching two PDFs of York’s policy, one aimed specially at businesses who might have issues with buskers, and one aimed more generally at buskers and others who use public space. I hope you all get the chance to scrutinise these documents carefully.
May I firstly say that I am willing to accept that the PSPO proposal although clearly misguided, is at least well-intentioned. Oxford is a wonderful city in which to busk and some form of oversight is clearly necessary. It is also clear that enforcement powers are needed as a last resort for nuisance caused by busking.
However, the proposals to make ‘noncompliant’ busking a criminal offence by implementing a PSPO go way beyond what is necessary and proportionate for the oversight of busking and , ironically, represent a real threat to the cultural and civic life of Oxford’s public spaces.
That is why, tomorrow, I will be helping to lead a day long multi-location protest busk against Oxford’s PSPO proposals to invite the Labour group and the responsible officers to rethink these damaging proposals. We will be on Cornmarket from 12pm onwards and if any elected members wish to come and speak to us we would be very happy to explain our position. Here is the Facebook event to the protest:
https://www.facebook.com/events/749538838499756/752236524896654/
Quite simply, the proposed PSPO has the effect of turning an already restrictive busking code of conduct into criminal law and will thereby create a catalogue of entirely arbitrary new ‘criminal’ offences.
Oxford’s claims that existing powers are inadequate are misleading and inaccurate.
Oxford City Council already has legal powers to take action against buskers who are causing a noise nuisance and obstruction. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 it is a criminal offence to cause noise nuisance and the local authority can issue noise abatement notices against buskers and even confiscate musical instruments.
Likewise, under the Highways Act 1980 it is an offence to cause an obstruction on the highway, and any busker who does so can face enforcement action and punitive fines
Oxford’s existing code of conduct for busking is already highly restrictive and the proposal to introduce PSPO powers to underpin it will lead to arbitrary outcomes.
Oxford only ‘allow’ busking in eight official locations. Under the PSPO it will be a criminal offence to busk anywhere else, even if no obstruction is being caused. This creates an arbitrary criminal offence. In reality there are many more than eight places in the city where busking could be carried out without causing an issue.
Oxford only allow people to busk for one hour in one place and say no return is allowed to that spot within two hours. This treats a grassroots cultural activity which brings life and colour to the city centre as if it were car parking. A busker with a large repertoire of songs, played at a responsible and reasonable level can busk for longer than one hour without causing any issues whatsoever. Under Oxford’s PSPO proposal it will be a criminal offence to busk for 65 minutes, even if no nuisance has been caused, no complaints have been received and no one is waiting for a busking pitch. Once again this is in an entirely arbitrary outcome which undermines respect for the rule of law and is completely disproportionate.
‘A Guide to Busking in York’ is a collaborative document agreed between the busking community, Musician’s Union, Keep Streets Live Campaign, local authority and local businesses in that historic city over a period of 6 months of discussions. It is a clear alternative approach to the course of action Oxford propose. It has also been presented to Oxford’s ruling Labour group and senior officers within the council. It is designed to build good relationships between people who use the streets and provides a dispute resolution mechanism for people who have complaints about buskers. Importantly, enforcement action will only be taken as a last resort against buskers who are causing a specific issue such as noise nuisance or obstruction and who have refused reasonable requests to amend their performances. Unlike Oxford’s PSPO proposal a busker would not face a criminal record just because they had played in the wrong spot or for longer than one hour. There would have to be a justified reason for taking enforcement action. This has the advantage of being both fair and sensible in light of the costs of taking enforcement action and the relatively scarce resources available to the council. You can see York’s busking guidance at this link: http://keepstreetslive.com/articles/2015/05/1301
including a special four page document aimed at city centre businesses. It is a clear alternative to the proposals Oxford Council have put forward.
Oxford make the spurious claim that they need to introduce a PSPO because they have no existing powers of enforcement. I have already shown that this is demonstrably untrue and that the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and Highways Act 1980 give scope for enforcement against noise nuisance and obstruction. Additionally, since October 2014 under the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 (The same act that contains PSPOs) the council now have the power to issue Community Protection Notices (CPNs) against any individual whose behaviour is a) unreasonable and b) having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the vicinity. The breach of a CPN is a criminal offence and can lead to the seizure of musical instruments and punitive fines. CPNs could be issued to any busker whose conduct was deemed to be unreasonable and having an adverse affect on the quality of life of those within the vicinity. It is impossible to imagine a situation arising from busking where a CPN or the other pieces of legislation already mentioned would be inadequate. The advantage of a CPN over the PSPO is firstly that is targeted against individuals rather than buskers as a group, and secondly that it is more difficult to issue arbitrarily. A busker could not get given a CPN just for busking in the wrong spot for the wrong length of time unless they were actually causing a significant issue. Under the PSPO legislation a busker could be fined and criminalised even if they were causing no issue to any person. This is an arbitrary outcome that undermines respect for the rule of law and will create an unnecessary relationship of antagonism between Oxford’s civic officers and the busking community. It will also out many buskers and musicians off from travelling to Oxford in the first place and create a more routinised, sanitised and duller public realm which cannot be good for the city.
In short, there are many good alternatives to the PSPO approach, and many good reasons why the PSPO should not be adopted. The only remaining reason why Oxford might consider adopting the PSPO are because a) It creates a summary power to use against buskers which appears to be administratively convenient to do b) There is no requirement to produce evidence that a busker has caused an issue, buskers can be given a £100 fine just for playing in the wrong spot or for longer than 60 minutes which is less difficult than proving that a busker has been unreasonable and is causing a genuine issue.
The PSPO is a disproportionate and unjustified response to the issue of busking. We call upon Oxford City Council to drop these contentious proposals and to open a genuine dialogue with the busking community, local businesses, Musician’s Union and the Keep Streets Live Campaign and to introduce guidance promotes harmony and good will and does not create arbitrary criminal offences to the great detriment of the civic and cultural life of the city of Oxford.
Kind regards,
Jonny Walker
Founding Director of Keep Streets Live Campaign
http://keepstreetslive.com
http://jonnywalker.co.uk
http://facebook.com/jonnysongs

This was Oxford City Council's official response to our petition:

Oxford City Council encourages busking in the city centre. It adds a great deal to the vibrant and exciting city centre experience that we all know and love.

For the last decade, the City Council has had a Code of Practice that buskers are asked to agree to observe when they obtain a busking permit from the Council. to observe when they obtain a busking permit from the Council.

The Code includes:

– Not busking for more than 60 minutes in one place
– Not obstructing the highway
– Using amplification responsibly and maintaining a reasonable volume

The aim of the Code has always been to create a level playing field for all buskers and to stop any nuisance to everyone else who uses the city centre

– traders, local residents and visitors.
We currently have no legal power to enforce this Code of Practice and have received complaints from traders, in particular, about buskers playing loudly and for long periods of time outside their shops, which is not fair to them.

The Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) has been proposed in order to provide a legal power to take action against busking which leads to complaints from the public. In all cases, buskers will be asked to conform to the Code before any enforcement measures are used.

The PSPO will allow the Police or designated Council officers to issue a £100 fine or, in the most extreme of cases, to take the person to court, which could result in a maximum fine of £1,000.

But the Order will also remove the current requirement to obtain a permit before busking. After the PSPO has been introduced, people wishing to busk will be able to do so without contacting us in any way. All they will need to do is adhere to the existing Code of Practice.

The measures proposed will therefore have no impact on the vast majority of buskers and will in fact make it easier for musicians to busk in Oxford city centre. We think the measures will help to improve the liveliness of the city centre.


Posted on May 20, 2015

Keep Streets Live response to Cultural Clampdown/PSPO consultation in Birmingham

Keep Streets Live response to Cultural Clampdown/PSPO consultation in Birmingham

A real threat exists to cultural and civic freedoms on the streets of Birmingham where the City Council have opened a consultation to make it a criminal offence for buskers to use any amplification on key pitches in the city. Please take the time to respond to the online consultation which you can complete by following this link: https://www.birminghambeheard.org.uk/place/the-introduction-of-public-spaces-protection-order/consultation/intro/view

The Keep Streets Live Campaign has already submitted a response to the consultation which we reproduce below. Our response explains in detail why the PSPO is not the right response to the problems in Birmingham and calls on the council to work with the busking community in the city to find a compromise that allows the council to deal with complaints about noise and nuisance on the one hand, but safeguards cultural freedoms and a vibrant and open busking policy on the other. You can feel free to use our response to the consultation as a reference point for your own response:

Keep Streets Live Response to PSPO Consultation 

The Keep Streets Live Campaign is a not for profit organisation which exists to protect access to public space for informal offerings of art and music and to prevent the encroachment of criminal law upon grassroots culture. We seek to work alongside local authorities wherever possible to build positive relationships that safeguard street culture, and to constructively challenge policies that marginalise street culture.

We strongly oppose the use of a PSPO to place a blanket ban on amplification in the proposed restricted area, and the use of a PSPO to target busking per se. Whilst we recognise that some buskers cause noise issues which need to be dealt with, the use of a blanket ban is a disproportionate response because it penalises many street artists and performers who have not been causing issues and is therefore arbitrary. Any musician who breached the proposed ‘Public Space Protection Order’ would face a potential criminal record and punitive fines. The proposals would marginalise its street artists and musicians and devastate their livelihoods by effectively making it illegal to perform with instruments that incorporate any form of amplification on some of the key busking pitches in the city. This would diminish the informal cultural life of the city of Birmingham and deprive visitors and residents alike of a huge range of musical performances in the social and grassroots cultural hub of the city.

The Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 should not be used to stifle freedom of expression and criminalise musicians. Busking is a social activity, not an antisocial one. It is a tradition that enhances public space and deserves to be wholeheartedly supported and protected by the local authority. They already have robust powers available to tackle the inconsiderate behaviour of a small minority of performers that cause issues. It is already a criminal offence to create a noise nuisance on the streets, and, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the local authority have the power to issue noise abatement notices to anyone creating noise nuisance, including buskers, and to seize instruments.The PSPO powers contained in the the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 were not designed to regulate busking and the government gave assurances in Parliament would not be used against buskers per se and that the powers contained in the new Act were only aimed ‘against the anti-social minority who give street performers a bad name:

“I might illustrate them as being aggressive beggars and drunken louts”(http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/140121-0001.htm#14012175000753)

Birmingham’s current proposals would affect all street musicians, not just the minority who have caused issues. The use of a PSPO prioritises ease of enforcement and administrative convenience over freedom of expression and the grassroots cultural life of the city. It represents a disproportionate response.

Many contemporary street musicians use some amplification to support outdoor musical performances. Some use quiet instruments or music technology which can’t work effectively without amplification. These include keyboards, electric violins, mandolins, guitars as well as loop pedals which are an increasingly common part of contemporary musical performances. Accomplished performances, many of which incorporate some amplification, are enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Birmingham each year and are an established part of the grassroots cultural life of the city. The use of amplifiers can actually allow musicians to play and sing more quietly and still be heard just above the hustle and bustle of ambient street noise. This is especially important for vocalists who can face voice damage straining to be heard over the sounds of the street.  It is not difficult to find a volume level which is not intrusive and volume levels can always be adjusted upon request. A ban on amplifiers to be consistent would logically have to extend to wind, percussion and brass instruments, all of which have the potential to be significantly louder than ‘amplified’ sound depending on the context. The issues in Birmingham have been caused not by amplification per se, but by excessive volume on the part of a small minority of individual performers. The local authority should target enforcement action against those performers who have caused a persistent issue with noise nuisance, whether amplified or unamplified, using their existing statutory powers such as the power to issue noise abatement notices and confiscate musical instruments under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The principle that enforcement should be against individuals who have caused specific issues rather than creating an arbitrary criminal offence (i.e. use of an amplifier) is key. The local authority have powers under the new legislation to issue CPNs (Community Protection Notices) to any individual whose behaviour is of a persistent nature and is a)unreasonable and b) having a detrimental effect on those in the community. CPNs could be used by Birmingham as a power of last resort to use against buskers, or other users of public space, who have caused persistent issues. Whilst CPNs still need proper oversight, they are targeted against individuals rather then entire groups, or cultural activities and therefore represent a more proportionate and balanced response to the issue of noise from busking, enabling the local authority to take effective action against the minority of performers who cause issues, rather than requiring them to take action arbitrarily against, for example, someone using an amp in a PSPO area who otherwise is not causing any issues. CPNs could be backed up by a Best Practise Guide for busking published by the council setting out expected behaviour in the city, tailored to Birmingham’s specific cultural context and agreed between the busking community, the Musician’s Union and the business community. Such an approach has worked well in Liverpool and York and has led to a reduction in the number of complaints received about busking. A measured response that targets individuals is less likely to be politically contentious and to cause damage to the city’s reputation. It is also much more likely to be compliant with Article 10 of the Human Rights Act (Freedom of Expression) and therefore less vulnerable to legal challenge. On behalf of the Keep Streets Live Campaign I urge Birmingham City Council to take this approach.

Response to Bath and North East Somerset Council Busking PSPO Consultation

Response to Bath and North East Somerset Council Busking PSPO Consultation

 

Bath and North East Somerset Council are consulting on using a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to ban all amplification in key busking pitches in the city. PSPOs are a controversial power contained in the Police, Crime and Antisocial Behaviour Act 2014 which has been described as a ‘law against nearly everything’. This would mean that any street performer who used amplification to support their performances in these areas would be committing a criminal offence.

The Keep Streets Live Campaign opposes the use of a PSPO to ban amplification in the vicinity of the Abbey. The PSPO will not address the root issue which is that the Abbey want ALL street music to be banned outside the Abbey whether amplified or not and have even mentioned xylophones as a source of noise nuisance! We see this as an attempt to ‘privatise’ the public spaces in the vicinity of the Abbey through the criminalisation of grassroots culture.

We oppose a blanket ban on amplification because it affects all buskers, not just the minority who have caused issues for other people. We propose an alternative solution which uses existing legislation to prosecute individuals who cause noise nuisance rather than criminalising buskers collectively. We would like to see Bath and North East Somerset Council follow the example of Liverpool, York, London, and Canterbury amongst others by adopting a code of conduct approach to busking which protects spontaneity and openness and promotes harmonious relationships on the streets. This is the best practise guide agreed in Liverpool between buskers, businesses and the local authority. It is a template for resolving disputes without the need for new legislation or coercive blanket bans.

You can respond to Bath’s online consultation here. If you agree with our points and would like to see buskers find a workable compromise with the Abbey and the Council please follow this link and fill in the short questionnaire emphasising that you don’t want the council to ban amplification:

http://www.bathnes.gov.uk/consultations/public-space-protection-order-0

Here are the answers we submitted to the consultation:

Question 1

Which of the following best describes you? Tick all that apply

Busking advocacy organisation

Question 2

Are you responding on behalf of an organisation? If so, what is the name of the organisation:

Keep Streets Live Campaign

Question 3

Have you ever been adversely affected by amplified music / sound from street entertainers in Abbey Church Yard, Kingston Parade or Abbey Green?

Please tick one

No

If you answered ‘yes’ to this question, on average how frequently were you affected by amplified music/ sound in these locations?

Please tick one

Daily

One a week

Once a month

Less often; please write in

The structure of the survey ‘begs the question’.

 

The phrase ‘adversely affected’ is vague and nebulous and is open to an enormous range of interpretations and bias. Some respondents may consider busking ‘per se’ to have an ‘adverse affect’ upon their ‘quality of life’. How will the council establish what constitutes a significant enough threshold of ‘adverse affect’ to implement a PSPO with all the curtailment of the cultural life of the city that entails?

 

For balance a supplementary question should be included with the words ‘Have you ever been positively affected by amplified music/sound from street entertainers? If you were positively affected please tell us how this affected your quality of life’.

 

If you were affected, please explain in the space provided, telling us how this affected your quality of life:

n/a

Question 4

Do you think that the noise level from amplification in the areas specified above is unreasonable at present?

Yes

No

Don’t know

Please tick one

You can use this space to expand on your answer, if required.

The question is not specific enough to be meaningful because it does not differentiate between the hundreds of different musical acts that incorporate some amplification in their performances the vast majority of whom do so reasonably without creating an adverse impact upon the quality of life of those within the vicinity. On the contrary, their performances have a positive effect on the local environment and make a valuable contribution towards Bath’s growing visitor economy. If any individual performance incorporating amplification is unreasonable than enforcement action under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 against such a performer is available to the local authority and enables the council to respond to a specific issue of noise nuisance without targeting the majority of performers who are not causing problems.

Question 5

Would you support a ban on the use of amplifiers by street entertainers in Abbey Church Yard, Kingston Parade, and Abbey Green?

No

Question 6

Please use this space to list any benefits or drawbacks you see from proposals to ban amplification in the three areas of Bath city centre mentioned above, or to add any other comments:
A ban on amplification will have an extremely adverse effect on the vibrant and diverse street culture scene in Bath and marginalise its talented street performing community. Amplification is a significant part of the toolkit of the modern street musician. An enormous range of instrumentalists and musicians incorporate amplification to support and enhance performances. Many musicians use electric instruments and music technology which can’t work without amplification. These include electric violins and guitars as well as loop pedals which are an increasingly common part of contemporary musical performances. The use of amplifiers allows musicians to play and sing more quietly and still be heard just above the ambient street noise. This is especially important for vocalists who can face voice damage straining to be heard over the sounds of the street. It is not difficult to find a volume level which is not intrusive and volume levels can always be adjusted upon request. A ban on amplifiers to be consistent would logically have to extend to wind, percussion and brass instruments, all of which have the potential to be significantly louder than ‘amplified’ sound depending on the context. The issues in Bath, such as they are, have been caused not by amplification per se, but by excessive volume on the part of a few individual performers. The local authority should target enforcement action against performers who have caused a persistent issue with noise nuisance, whether amplified or unamplified, using their existing statutory powers such as the power to issue noise abatement notices and confiscate musical instruments under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. A blanket ban is a blunt instrument which strikes the wrong note.