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.

 

 

Best Practice Busking Guides

Since our first success in Liverpool, we have now worked with several dozen UK councils to introduce best practice guidance for busking, applicable both to performers and the street side community of businesses and residents.

Our guidance is a system based on dialogue, mutual respect, and backed up with properly-used enforcement action where necessary. The approach is flexible, constructed involving all stakeholders, and can be adapted to suit the particular geographical and cultural needs of any given town or city.

You can find links to some of these below which can be used as reference for the specific locations, and also as a template for starting negotiations in the future.

Birmingham

Canterbury

Liverpool

Worcester

York

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.