Keep Streets Live response to Cultural Clampdown/PSPO consultation in Birmingham

Keep Streets Live response to Cultural Clampdown/PSPO consultation in Birmingham

A real threat exists to cultural and civic freedoms on the streets of Birmingham where the City Council have opened a consultation to make it a criminal offence for buskers to use any amplification on key pitches in the city. Please take the time to respond to the online consultation which you can complete by following this link: https://www.birminghambeheard.org.uk/place/the-introduction-of-public-spaces-protection-order/consultation/intro/view

The Keep Streets Live Campaign has already submitted a response to the consultation which we reproduce below. Our response explains in detail why the PSPO is not the right response to the problems in Birmingham and calls on the council to work with the busking community in the city to find a compromise that allows the council to deal with complaints about noise and nuisance on the one hand, but safeguards cultural freedoms and a vibrant and open busking policy on the other. You can feel free to use our response to the consultation as a reference point for your own response:

Keep Streets Live Response to PSPO Consultation 

The Keep Streets Live Campaign is a not for profit organisation which exists to protect access to public space for informal offerings of art and music and to prevent the encroachment of criminal law upon grassroots culture. We seek to work alongside local authorities wherever possible to build positive relationships that safeguard street culture, and to constructively challenge policies that marginalise street culture.

We strongly oppose the use of a PSPO to place a blanket ban on amplification in the proposed restricted area, and the use of a PSPO to target busking per se. Whilst we recognise that some buskers cause noise issues which need to be dealt with, the use of a blanket ban is a disproportionate response because it penalises many street artists and performers who have not been causing issues and is therefore arbitrary. Any musician who breached the proposed ‘Public Space Protection Order’ would face a potential criminal record and punitive fines. The proposals would marginalise its street artists and musicians and devastate their livelihoods by effectively making it illegal to perform with instruments that incorporate any form of amplification on some of the key busking pitches in the city. This would diminish the informal cultural life of the city of Birmingham and deprive visitors and residents alike of a huge range of musical performances in the social and grassroots cultural hub of the city.

The Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 should not be used to stifle freedom of expression and criminalise musicians. Busking is a social activity, not an antisocial one. It is a tradition that enhances public space and deserves to be wholeheartedly supported and protected by the local authority. They already have robust powers available to tackle the inconsiderate behaviour of a small minority of performers that cause issues. It is already a criminal offence to create a noise nuisance on the streets, and, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the local authority have the power to issue noise abatement notices to anyone creating noise nuisance, including buskers, and to seize instruments.The PSPO powers contained in the the Antisocial Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 were not designed to regulate busking and the government gave assurances in Parliament would not be used against buskers per se and that the powers contained in the new Act were only aimed ‘against the anti-social minority who give street performers a bad name:

“I might illustrate them as being aggressive beggars and drunken louts”(http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldhansrd/text/140121-0001.htm#14012175000753)

Birmingham’s current proposals would affect all street musicians, not just the minority who have caused issues. The use of a PSPO prioritises ease of enforcement and administrative convenience over freedom of expression and the grassroots cultural life of the city. It represents a disproportionate response.

Many contemporary street musicians use some amplification to support outdoor musical performances. Some use quiet instruments or music technology which can’t work effectively without amplification. These include keyboards, electric violins, mandolins, guitars as well as loop pedals which are an increasingly common part of contemporary musical performances. Accomplished performances, many of which incorporate some amplification, are enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Birmingham each year and are an established part of the grassroots cultural life of the city. The use of amplifiers can actually allow musicians to play and sing more quietly and still be heard just above the hustle and bustle of 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 Birmingham have been caused not by amplification per se, but by excessive volume on the part of a small minority of individual performers. The local authority should target enforcement action against those 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. The principle that enforcement should be against individuals who have caused specific issues rather than creating an arbitrary criminal offence (i.e. use of an amplifier) is key. The local authority have powers under the new legislation to issue CPNs (Community Protection Notices) to any individual whose behaviour is of a persistent nature and is a)unreasonable and b) having a detrimental effect on those in the community. CPNs could be used by Birmingham as a power of last resort to use against buskers, or other users of public space, who have caused persistent issues. Whilst CPNs still need proper oversight, they are targeted against individuals rather then entire groups, or cultural activities and therefore represent a more proportionate and balanced response to the issue of noise from busking, enabling the local authority to take effective action against the minority of performers who cause issues, rather than requiring them to take action arbitrarily against, for example, someone using an amp in a PSPO area who otherwise is not causing any issues. CPNs could be backed up by a Best Practise Guide for busking published by the council setting out expected behaviour in the city, tailored to Birmingham’s specific cultural context and agreed between the busking community, the Musician’s Union and the business community. Such an approach has worked well in Liverpool and York and has led to a reduction in the number of complaints received about busking. A measured response that targets individuals is less likely to be politically contentious and to cause damage to the city’s reputation. It is also much more likely to be compliant with Article 10 of the Human Rights Act (Freedom of Expression) and therefore less vulnerable to legal challenge. On behalf of the Keep Streets Live Campaign I urge Birmingham City Council to take this approach.

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.