Stop Swindon Council’s Attack on Street Culture

Stop Swindon Council’s Attack on Street Culture


Swindon’s Public Space Protection Order is an assault on the town’s civic life.

Skateboarding ‘or similar’ in an ‘annoying’ way, drawing pavement art with chalk, playing fetch with a dog without a lead, collecting money for a charity ‘assertively’, even peddling with a valid license could all become a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £1000 under proposals tabled by Swindon Borough Council.

Taken together these measures represent a highly heavy handed approach to the oversight of the public spaces in the town, and the unnecessary creation of vague and ambiguous criminal offences so we are constructively opposing this measure. Please take a moment to fill out your own response to this measure, the more people who complete the consultation, the more chance we have of stopping these measures.

This is the Keep Streets Live Campaign response to Swindon Borough Council’s online consultation on whether to create 

Please take the time to complete the consultation via this link:

Feel free to use our responses as a guide

There is also a petition against this measure here:

Swindon Borough Council (referred to hereafter as ‘the authority’) hereby makes the following Public Spaces Protection Order that applies to the public space as referred to within the marked boundary in Appendix One: 

Proposed Restrictions: 

1. Dogs on leads
Any person in charge of a dog, at any time, must keep the dog on a lead unless subject to exemptions listed in Appendix Two below.

KSL response 

It should not be a criminal offence to walk a dog without a lead. Instead dog-owners should be treated as responsible persons capable of making their own judgments about the nature of their dog and its relationship to public safety under existing legislation. This prohibition is unnecessarily wide and has the effect of criminalising harmless activities like playing fetch with a dog in a public place. It will have the presumably unintended effect of turning Swindon’s public spaces into more alienating environments, for dog-owners and non-dog-owners alike.

2. Alcohol
Any person is prohibited from, at any time, consuming alcohol or having an open alcohol container, unless subject to exemptions listed in Appendix Two below. 

KSL response 

    Once again this prohibition is framed too widely and criminalises people unnecessarily, for instance a family having a glass of wine with a picnic, two lovers having a glass of champagne in the park. A discretionary power allowing the police to request that persons surrender their drink upon request would allow the authorities to deal with any antisocial behaviour resulting from alcohol use without the need for authoritarian and catch-all measures.

3. Begging
Any person is prohibited from, at any time, placing himself in a position to receive alms for a continuing period. 

KSL response 

This is a particularly problematic prohibition from an equalities act and Human Rights Act standpoint. Creating a criminal offence that catches the most vulnerable and destitute members of society is punitive and unlikely to be effective. A beggar is unlikely to be able to afford to pay a £100 spot fine and will likely end up in court where they would face a mandatory court charge of £150 before the magistrates even had chance to pass a judgment. It is conceivable that some vulnerable persons might face imprisonment as a consequence of non-payment of court fees and fines. At a time of rising poverty and homelessness a local authority should not be using these discretionary powers to punish the poor and vulnerable. Additionally, these measures would leave Swindon open to a formal legal challenge. Oxford City Council’s proposals to make ‘persistent begging’ the focus of a PSPO proposal resulted in a formal legal challenge from the Human Rights body Liberty and widespread protests: Oxford City Council subsequently adjusted the wording of their proposal to say ‘begging that could reasonably be perceived as aggressive’, which, whilst still highly problematic makes the proposal more proportionate to the potential social harms caused by begging. This measure should be removed from the PSPO.

4.) Peddling/Street Trading
Any person is prohibited from, at any time, peddling/trading goods without the written permission of the authority, even if licensed. 

  KSL response 

The criminalisation of pedlars and street traders under this prohibition, even if they hold a valid license, is punitive and unnecessary and an attack on a legitimate way of making a living. Peddling is a valid and lawful means of making a living in the UK with a history that predates the 1871 Pedlar’s Act. The working of this prohibition is also vague enough to have worrying implications for other users of public spaces such as buskers who might make CDs of their performances available to passerby.

5.) Skateboarding
Any person is prohibited from, at any time, using a skateboard or similar in a way that may damage property or cause nuisance or annoyance.

KSL response 

The wording of this prohibition is vague and open ended:  ‘Any person is prohibited from, at any time, using a skateboard or similar in a way that may damage property or cause nuisance or annoyance’

This means that a skateboarder could face a criminal record and fines of up to £1000 for causing ‘annoyance’ to someone. What definition of ‘annoyance’ is being used? What, indeed, is ‘similar’ in relation to a skateboard? A bicycle? A tricycle? A zimmer frame? A scooter?

This is an unnecessary and punitive measure that will have a disproportionate impact on young people for whom skateboarding is a hobby and pastime, and creates an unnecessary relationship of antagonism between the local authority and the skateboarding community.

It is also probably unlawful because it creates an unacceptable degree of uncertainty about what behaviour is, and isn’t lawful. For example, is riding a scooter or tricycle in a way that someone finds annoying unlawful under this prohibition?

Existing legislation relating to criminal damage and public order is more than adequate to deal with any concerns about the ‘excesses’ of the skateboarding community.

6.) Marking surfaces/chalking
Any person is prohibited from, at any time, directly marking surfaces such as walls or pavements with paints, chalk or similar without the written permission of the authority.

Street art using chalk that can be washed off by an afternoon of rainfall or a bucket of water should not be a criminal offence. In no way can it meaningfully be said to have a detrimental effect on the local area, in fact, street art, alongside street entertainment is a long established part of any vibrant street culture and should be encouraged and supported by the local authority, not subject to punitive fines and criminalisation.

7.) Aggressive Charity Collection 

Any person is prohibited from, at any time, on land detailed in Appendix One below, engaging in assertive or aggressive (commercial or charity) collection or soliciting of money. 

KSL response

Once again the wording of this prohibition is dangerously vague and open-ended and creates a potentially ambiguous criminal offence of ‘assertive’ charity collection. What objective standard of ‘assertiveness’ or ‘aggressiveness’ is being proposed to evaluate an offence which carries a criminal record and fines of up to £1000?Why is existing public order legislation such as the Public Order Act 1986 which created the offence of causing ‘alarm, harassment or distress’ insufficient to address a situation where there were concerns about the approach of a charity collector? What standard of evidence will be used to establish that this ‘offence’ has occurred?This has been poorly thought through and is most probably unlawful, and would be open to legal challenge.

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:
Sign our petition calling on Oxford to abandon its plans to criminalise buskers:
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:
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:
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

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

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