York welcomes buskers with new guidance designed to promote harmony on the streets

York welcomes buskers with new guidance designed to promote harmony on the streets

York City Council have followed on from Liverpool to become the second major UK city to adopt new collaborative guidelines for busking. The Council worked closely with the local busking community, the Musician’s Union, the Keep Streets Live Campaign and local businesses to produce a document designed to encourage and welcome buskers from all over the world.

You can read an online version of ‘A Guide to Busking in York’ by clicking on the following link: A Guide to Busking in York-print artwork

Busking in York

 

‘A Guide to Busking in York’ is very different in tone and content from busking policies in many UK towns and cities, which all too often see busking as a potential problem to be managed and restricted, rather than as a grassroots cultural activity to be celebrated. York’s new approach recognises that the busking tradition is characterised by informality, spontaneity and democratic access to public space. The new guidelines replace a cumbersome and coercive regime where the local authority used to charge buskers for permits and hold auditions. Once upon a time, buskers without permits were moved on and many would-be performers were turned away because the system of obtaining a license and attending an audition put people off from coming to York to perform. Until an online petition was started by the Keep Streets Live Campaign. It was signed by over 4000 people and called on York to scrap their restrictive policy and work with the busking community to produce new guidance. The new guidelines are the result of that successful campaign and replaces the old permit and audition system.

Now, no ‘license’, ‘permit’ or audition is required to busk in York. Instead, ‘A Guide to Busking In York’ sets out some simple principles for buskers based upon common sense, consideration and good will. The guidance also sets out practical steps for resolving potential issues between buskers and others who share public space in the city before problems have a chance to escalate. This new approach safeguards spontaneity, whilst allowing appropriate action to be taken whenever issues do arise.

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York have also taken the welcome step of publishing a condensed guidance document aimed specifically at city centre businesses and residents to help them resolve any busking-related issues amicably and to explain the busking guidance clearly. It asks those who may have an issue with a busking performance to politely speak to the busker themselves and reach a compromise before making a formal complaint. Most situations can be resolved in this way. For those that can’t be, a council officer will attend and assess the situation. If the busker is deemed to be at fault and the issue persists then the busker can ultimately face enforcement action but this will only ever be as a last resort. You can follow this link to see an online copy of the guidance document aimed at businesses: York Busking Guidance businesses – final

York’s new guidance for busking further enhances its deserved reputation as one of the UK’s leading cultural cities. Importantly, the new policy safeguards the spontaneity and informality that are key to the busking tradition, which will help to attract high quality busking acts from all over the world and animate the city’s streets. The new guidelines have removed unnecessary and costly bureaucracy and stand in direct contrast to regressive approaches in other places, such as: Camden’s coercive license regime and Oxford City Council’s ill-thought out proposals to use draconian ‘Public Space Protection Orders’ to criminalise ‘non-compliant’ buskers.

By drawing up busking guidance alongside the Musician’s Union, Equity, the Keep Streets Live Campaign, local buskers and businesses, York Council have pioneered a radically different, collaborative approach to the oversight of street culture, setting a high standard for cultural policy that other towns and cities in the UK and beyond would do well to follow.

 

 

 

 

Oxford City Council’s Attack on Civic Freedoms

Oxford City Council’s Attack on Civic Freedoms

Sign our petition to protect civic freedoms in Oxford

Freedom of expression is under threat in Oxford. Singing a song or playing a musical instrument on the streets without permission could soon become a criminal offence under new plans developed by the Labour controlled local authority.

Oxford City Council are proposing to use controversial powers contained in the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 to make ‘non-compliant busking’ anywhere in the city a criminal offence amongst many other activities including riding bicycles on the wrong streets, feeding birds, sleeping rough and pavement art, or, in the words of Labour Councillor Dee Sinclair, one of the architects of these proposals, any behaviour which might make people ‘feel uncomfortable’.

It is no small irony that these attacks on civic freedoms are happening in Oxford, the birthplace of King John, exactly 800 years after the first Magna Carta was sealed. Whilst Oxford’s libraries hold over a quarter of the world’s copies of this ancient document, the principles of liberty, freedom of expression and justice are under direct threat from its city council with its proposals to use a ‘Public Space Protection Order’ (PSPO) to criminalise activities which are a normal part of the everyday life of the city.

Under Oxford’s proposals, ‘non-compliant’ busking would become a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to £1000 and a life long criminal record. Oxford is already one of the most restrictive cities for busking in the UK and ‘requires’ all buskers to provide passports, driving licenses and/or birth certificates as well as proof of address, and issues them with photo ID ‘Busking Cards’ before they are ‘allowed’ to busk. They have a highly prescriptive ‘voluntary’ code of conduct which places strict and arbitrary limits on where and when and for how long buskers can play, states that they must not be heard plainly from 50 metres and must stop performing for any reason if told to do so by a police or council officer (turning public officials into ‘civic Simon Cowells’ who can stop whatever they don’t like).

Importantly, Oxford’s busking policy currently has no formal basis in UK law which, in keeping with the tradition of liberty first enshrined in the Magna Carta, allows people to play music and sing on the streets without state interference provided that they are not causing a noise nuisance or obstructing the highway. Most towns and cities in the UK (Including York, Cambridge, Bath, Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, St Albans, Newcastle, Glasgow, Bournemouth and many others) do not require performers to obtain a ‘Busking Card’ or license before performing, and instead publish a code of conduct with expected behaviour and only take action against those buskers who cause specific issues.

Oxford City Council spuriously claim that ‘non-compliant’ buskers cause ‘unfair and unsafe’ practices (which they don’t specify) and that they need additional powers to use against those buskers who don’t obtain a ‘Busking Card’. But state licensing of street music is an infringement on freedom of expression because it gives council officials and police officers the arbitrary power to regulate cultural content and to pick and choose what they allow to happen, even when no laws are being broken. It is a threat to civil liberties by requiring musicians to surrender their personal details to the local authority when no offence has been committed. Additionally, it gives the local authority the power to arbitrarily remove a ‘Busking Card’ from anybody they don’t like, or to introduce charges which will prevent people who can’t afford a ‘Busking Card’ from busking. It is also unnecessary because the police and the local authority have a wide range of existing powers that they can use whenever any public nuisance or obstruction has been caused.

Oxford City Council’s proposal to use Public Space Protection Orders to regulate busking represent a clear misuse of the law in order to attempt to prop up a restrictive and illegitimate busking scheme by prioritising administrative convenience over and above cultural freedom. They represent unwarranted state interference with freedom of expression and are an unjustified threat to civic freedoms in public space, freedoms which are necessary in an open and democratic country. At the time PSPOs were being debated in Parliament the UK government gave firm assurances that the powers would not be used against buskers unless they were ‘an antisocial minority…aggressive beggars and drunken louts’. Oxford are trying to include any artist or musician who dissents from their busking scheme into the category of criminal. Actually, it is entirely possible to busk in Oxford without a ‘Busking Card’ without causing nuisance or having a detrimental effect on the life of those in the locality. Oxford’s proposals would therefore criminalise innocent people and have a chilling effect on the cultural life of the city.

The Keep Streets Live Campaign is a not for profit organisation which exists to protect and support informal perfomances of art and music in public spaces. We have successfully challenged unjust council busking policies in Liverpool, York and Canterbury where we now work alongside the local authority in both cities to introduce a Best Practise Guide for busking that works for the good of all. We have also advised the Mayor of London on his ‘Busk in London’ scheme designed to make London ‘the most busker friendly city in the world’. We are urgently seeking the repeal of anti-busking legislation by working with Liberal Democrat peer Lord Clement Jones whose Live Music Act 2012 was a landmark victory for live music and culture in the UK and who asked the government searching questions in Parliament about the misuse of the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 to curtail busking.

We urgently invite Oxford City Council to abandon their attempt to criminalise and marginalise street musicians by using PSPOs, and instead to work alongside the Musician’s Union, local buskers and the Keep Streets Live Campaign to design a policy that works for all such as the the best practise guide we developed alongside Liverpool City Council with the full participation of the busking community there and the Musician’s Union.

In the 800 years since the Magna Carta was first issued, freedom has been a cornerstone of British democracy. As the City which houses some of the oldest copies of that document, we call upon Oxford City Council to rethink its plans to use PSPOs to criminalise a wide range of activities that should not be in the realm of criminal law or else the local authority risks creating a relationship of antagonism towards those it exists to serve whilst making the city a more alienating and less welcoming place for all who live, work and visit it.

Follow this link to the complete Oxford City Council’s online consultation on these proposals.

Sign the Manifesto Club’s petition calling on Oxford City Council to rethink its plans to use PSPOs in Oxford

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.