Keep Streets Live! Campaign Updates…

Keep Streets Live! Campaign Updates…

Photo: A map showing the area of the city centre which Liverpool City Council intend to sweep clear of buskers during the Mathew Street festival.

 

Friday 24th August was a very important day for the Keep Streets Live! campaign. As many of you will be aware, one of the many buskers in Liverpool affected by the Council’s heavy-handed decision to clamp down on street entertainment has taken steps to seek justice for Liverpool’s buskers in the courts. Aided by Kirwan’s Solicitors, Siobhan McDermott has made an application for a judge to review the lawfulness of the Council’s policy and to strike it down.

Today, Siobhan and I drove to a sitting of the High Court in Manchester for a hearing before Judge Waksman QC. The purpose of the hearing was to seek assurances from Liverpool City Council about their current policy towards street performers and to ensure that there would be no extra clampdown on buskers during the Mathew Street festival. We were delighted that Liverpool City Council made an undertaking at the hearing NOT to

Apply or enforce, or encourage any other person to apply or enforce the street entertainment terms and conditions passed by Cabinet on June 8th 2012

pending the decision of the judicial review that has been applied for. It was noted that those undertakings were given without prejudice to Liverpool City Council’s other rights, power, duties or obligations pursuant to statute and common-law. That is fine by us. We have always said that the Council have a range of existing statutory powers to deal with any problems that arise from time to time. What we have always objected to was their attempt to impose an onerous additional set of terms and conditions onto street performers. We are glad of the Council’s undertaking not to enforce this policy pending the  coming Judicial Review.

However, during the hearing it also emerged that Liverpool City Council have made an operational decision to restrict street entertainment in much of Liverpool city centre for the entire duration of the two day Mathew Street festival. It seems this worrying decision was taken at a multi-agency meeting on the 28th June, but sadly it was not communicated adequately to those who are most affected – namely, the street artists and performers of Liverpool. The Council claim that the Police had been key drivers of the decision but did not provide a letter to this effect. Upon request, a map emerged of the area where street entertainment was to be actively, shall we say, discouraged (see above). As you can see, it covers an enormous part of Liverpool city centre. It was certainly a much larger area than was implied by the words in the letter Joe Anderson sent to Kirwan’s solicitors on August 23rd when he said:

For reasons of crowd management, the Police instruct that certain pitches have to be suspended and that Busking should not occur within certain parts of the City centre as it would constitute a health and safety hazard in terms of crowd management. The City Council are merely following the advice and instruction of the Police.

Given the history of Liverpool City Council’s behaviour towards buskers, we think it a tad unlikely that the major drivers of this policy are Merseyside Police who tend to be too busy fighting crime to act as impromptu talent show judges and anti-busker crusaders. We also question whether street performers constitute a genuine health and safety concern in light of the fact that the Mathew Street festival is an outdoor music festival set in the context of… yes, the streets! Would it not be reasonable to expect that there would be STREET entertainment at an outdoor music festival called the Mathew STREET festival? We do not understand the Council’s attitude towards street performers, nor why they seem to see buskers as such a threat to public order but are happy to turn Liverpool City Centre into a giant outdoor pub for 48 hours and hope for the best.

Recent Press Coverage

Recent Press Coverage

Photo: Richard Parmiter.

We’ve manged to summon up a fair amount of press coverage over these last few days about our campaign, and have successfully raised awareness of the wider issues which Liverpool City Council is effectively ignoring in its launch of its needlessly restrictive new policy.

Beginning with an article in the excellent Liverpool Confidential (see here), we’ve now seen articles in Trinity Mirror’s Liverpool Echo (see here, and our response to one reader‘s questions here) and the always excellent and critical Seven Streets (see here).

Our very own spokesperson and Liverpool-born busker Jonny Walker has been presenting the busker’s view along with the pragmatic case against the draconian, punitive and absurd terms of the new policy this morning over on BBC Radio Merseyside, challenging the narrow case made by the policy by Ged Gibbons’, CEO of Liverpool’s business improvement district.

To listen Jonny’s lively petition to Liverpool council to get back to the drawing board on this policy, go here (beginning from the 2 hour, 25 minute mark).

Summary of Major Objections

Summary of Major Objections

Photo: maistora.

 

We have one general and seven particular objections to Liverpool City Council’s new street performance policy.

In general, then, we object to the negative tone of the language used towards street performers throughout the minutes of the Cabinet Meeting where the new policy was put forward. For example:

At present street entertainment within the city centre can be intrusive to both businesses and residents alike. Street entertainers have in the past been accused of noise nuisance violations, repetitive performances, offensive/inappropriate behaviour and causing dangerous obstructions. There has been an increase in reports of abusive and offensive incidents which has caused alarm and distress to members of the general public and businesses within the city centre.

We believe this quote significantly overstates the issues that do arise from time to time from street performance, in order to provide a justification for the extensive and restrictive terms and conditions which Liverpool City Council are now requiring performers to sign up to.

Our seven particular objections to Liverpool City Council’s policy are as follows:

1. The policy uses coercive language and nebulous threats of prosecution for trespass in letters handed out to street artists and performers ahead of the new scheme, which needlessly intimidate vulnerable people and are exceptionally heavy handed. Since trespass is a civil, rather crimanal, offense, and requires material loss to be be proved,  legally highly questionable.

2. In extending enforcement powers to stop street performance on the smallest of pretexts, the policy risks turning those individual council officers and police into a poor man’s Simon Cowell in the sense that they can efectively prevent licensed performers from performing simply because they take an aesthetic dislike to your act or even to what you are wearing. 

3. The policy erroenously claims that “is illegal for persons under 18 to play, sing or perform in a street for money or monies worth”. In fact, the government’s own guidlines clearly state that “Children under 14 years may not busk”.

4. The policy is full of arbitrary specifications that make little sense. For instance: performers cannot occupy more then a 1.5m radius; sound must not be heard from more than 30m away; there can be no more than 5 people in a musical ensemble; signs must not be bigger than A4 in size; and no leaflets or demo CDs can be given away. The combined effect of all these sub-clauses is to grant officials of the council and enforcement officers due scope to endlessly chip away at performers and their ability to generate income by showcasing their talents.

5. The policy unnecessarily and arbitrarily limits the space wherein performances can take place, relegating street performance to a few officially sanctioned pitches, many of them in locations wholly unsuitable performance. Liverpool city centre has many natural pitches that performers are themselves accustomed for various reasons to performing upon: whether those reasons are acoustical, social or, indeed, economic. We favour dynamic rolling pitches with a recommendation for a 50m distance between noise-generating acts, with little restrictions on where ‘quiet’ acts like pavement artists can operate.

6. The policy requires performers to book with the council up to a week in advance to play for a maximum of two hours at any one pitch, turning what is often a spontaneous cultural event into a tightly controlled and highly limited activity. The policy is overly restrictive and needlessly bureaucratic. Street performance is, after all, a highly self-regulating business activity – those performers who are bad will not earn any money and quickly reconsider their act, whilst those who are good will flourish economically. The policy, furthermore, will make it much more difficult to make a living from street performance, thereby discouraging more accomplished acts from playing in Liverpool – the exact opposite result of the policy’s stated aims.

7. The policy discriminates against performers who use animals in their act. One owl-handler, who has a animal handling licence and £10 million worth of public liability insurance, and whose street act incorporates elements of educating people about birds of prey will be banned for no good reason.

We have gone into greater detail about specific articles of the policy in previous posts. In closing, it suffices to say that in a city which is known internationally and deservedly as a top destination for the arts and for its cultural life – as well as being the birthplace of the most renowned popular band of all time – Liverpool City Council’s new policy is a non-starter. We therefore respectfully ask Liverpool City Council to think again and come up with a policy that truly celebrates the vibrancy of street life without attempting to put street art and performance inside a tightly regulated box.