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.

 

 

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

5 Comments on "Response to Bath and North East Somerset Council Busking PSPO Consultation"

  • One of the very enjoyable aspects of visiting the city of Bath
    Is for me and many others the street entertainment.
    I lived in bath for many years and enjoyed the street musicians and entertainment provided by so many different types of acts.
    It would be a real shame to lose such a positive aspect of the city we all love.
    James Crisp

  • D. Clark says

    Let me introduce you to the bottom line. Lets face it, people like you qare always about the bottom line.
    If you give these powers to people who are little more than untrained jumped up clipboard warrioprs. What do you think is going to happen to revenues?
    Do you really believe that tourists are going to be interested in seeing these clipboard warriors confiscating peoples property instead of walking around enjoying the ambience?
    I wouldn’t spend a penny in your town under such draconian conditions.
    Yes I say town not city because I wish to bring to your attention exactly what your city will be reduced to under these measures. Not a bustling modern city any more but instead a dead hole of a place populated by council employees with nothing else to do except confiscate each otherrs mobile phones for making too much noise. You go too far.

  • Georgia Langley says

    I just remembered seeing I think his name was Joe, the amazing flute player on the bottom of Milsom Street. Not only did I see him but so did the viewers of BBC 1’s the One Show. This gets his name out for the pure talent he obviously has. Not only is this beneficial to Joe but it is also great publicity for Bath, because lets face it we don’t get mentioned that often on TV or other forms of media.

  • I am a Bossa Nova musician from Hertfordshire. I play finger-style nylon guitar and sing. My vocals are sung very softly, as is usual for the style of music I play. I play all around Europe, last year appearing live and on radio in UK, Holland and – in a place similar to Bath – historic Brugge in Belgium.

    I need an amp to be heard in small quiet cafés, so it goes without saying that I definitely need one to be heard above the street noise of a popular tourist area such as outside the Abbey. I can think of other instruments that would also need amplification, such as electric pianos (unless pianists are expected to drag a pub piano out onto the street).

    I was born in Bath and first learnt to play guitar while at school on Broad Street. I was greatly encouraged to get involved in music there, and we often sang in school events in the Abbey. This early musical education is a big reason that I am still making music, 30 years on.

    For a long time I have wanted to return to Bath to busk outside the Abbey. I planned to do it this year. So, when I found out that there were plans in place to prevent busking I was quite disappointed, not to mention surprised and upset with this misuse of the latest laws.

    I say misuse, as a blanket ban using new laws is totally unnecessary and draconian and treats all musicians as if they are a nuisance rather than the few that perhaps are.

    There are already laws in place to prevent excessive noise and therefore each individual should be approached to turn their music down, and only IF it is found, proven and documented that a certain unexceptionable dB level had been reached – and not just because some official doesn’t like it.

    We have all heard about extremists such as the Taliban, in far-off volatile countries, imprisoning people for playing music and confiscating instruments. I for one am hopeful that Bath and other towns and cities won’t continue down this path to restriction personal freedoms by passing similar laws – I would like to busk this year without being arrested or losing my equipment.

    it should also be considered that if Bath Council does ban amps, they will just end up with steel-string guitarists belting out three chord songs as loud as they can , singing or ..shouting as loud as possible, in order to be heard above the background noise. There won’t be any other way for them to play with any kind of subtlety of dynamics, musicality or style. They will in effect be forced into playing louder, simpler and in a way that the council perhaps would feel is worse than what they are hearing now.

    So instead I would like to see them forget the ill thought out ban on amps and sit down with the local buskers and local companies to work on the Busker’s best practice guide.

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