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: 

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/8ZNRZQN

Feel free to use our responses as a guide

There is also a petition against this measure here: https://www.change.org/p/swindon-borough-council-stop-the-swindon-town-centre-public-spaces-protection-order#petition-letter

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: https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/news/press-releases-and-statements/liberty-calls-oxford-city-council-scrap-unlawful-plans 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.

Response to Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Busking Consultation

Response to Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Busking Consultation

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea are consulting on bringing in a busking license which will be almost as restrictive as Camden. We have taken part in their consultation and have reproduced our responses here. You can take part in the consultation which closes on October 19th by clicking on the link below and using our responses as a guide if you wish. The more people who complete this consultation the greater the chance we have of persuading Kensington and Chelsea’s Councillors not to adopt this proposed scheme.

 

http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/survey/busking/snphase2busking1.htm

 

1.) Appendix A shows the pilot area to which the Street Entertainment (Busking) Policy refers to. Do you agree with the selected pilot area?

The Greater London Authority has convened a mayoral taskforce specifically for the purpose of agreeing a code of conduct for busking across London between all stakeholders. In the light of this process alone, which Kensington and Chelsea are part of, the imposition of a statutory licensing regime is highly prematureSection V of the London Local Authorities Act is a contentious piece of legislation which empowers local authorities to criminalise street culture, impose fines and seize musician’s instruments. The local authority has other statutory powers (Environmental Protection Act 1990, Highways Act 1980) that can be used to address problematic busking. The imposition of a licensing regime is contrary to the nature of busking as a spontaneous and informal cultural pursuit.

 

2.) Busking will not be allowed in the piloted area without a licence on Fridays and Saturdays from 10.00 to 18.00. Are these controls appropriate?

 

 

In the busking tradition performers typically perform in many different localities in the course of a working season. Busking licenses create unnecessary obstacles for travelling performers and always lead to a decline in the circulation of performers and greatly reduce variety. Camden have introduced a license under these powers alongside Hillingdon. If the 30 remaining boroughs followed suit the result would be the total fragmentation of the London busking community. Very few performers will have the resources to pay for 32 separate licenses, the result will be greatly reduced variety and quality of performances and the diminishment of the cultural life of the capital. A license regime also criminalises unlicensed performers who may not have been aware of the license arrangements and will be put off from coming to the Borough to perform. It creates an arbitrary barrier to the use of public space for the arts and would be resource-intensive to enforce. The threat of instrument confiscation and punitive fines is disproportionate to the issues that can arise from busking and is an unwarranted interference with Freedom of Expression under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act. An ongoing legal challenge to Camden Council’s license regime under Section V powers is being heard by the Court of Appeal on November 13th. These restrictions will be open to a similar challenge.

 

3.) On a Friday and Saturday, during the hours of 10.00am and 6.00pm the council will issue a maximum of 6 x 70 minutes slots per day, per location. Do you feel this number of slots is appropriate?

 

Busking performances differ in length according to the nature of the performance and the context in which it takes place. The Keep Streets Live Campaign Best Practice Guide recommends that performers do not repeat material in the same location but move between locations. We also recommend that buskers swap and share pitches informally. This scheme will lead to more co The proposed scheme is too prescriptive because it will lead to performances being cut short arbitrarily and doesn’t take account of the nature of busking as a primarily informal and spontaneous activity. The proposed scheme is too prescriptive because it will lead to performances being cut short arbitrarily and doesn’t take account of the nature of busking as a primarily informal and spontaneous activity. Some musical performances will be longer than 70 minutes, some will be much shorter. The booking system does not allow the flexibility and informality that is part of the nature of busking.

 

4.) Of the 42 slots available, each busker will be able to pre-book two slots per day. is this an appropriate number of pre-bookable slots?

 

Having to pre-book slots is unnecessarily bureaucratic in the first instance. Buskers typically turn up to a location and make an evaluation as to whether a space is suitable for a performance. They will then negotiate with other performers and come to arrangements in an informal way. Requiring pre-booked slots means that inevitably people will not turn up to their allocated spot but it won’t be open to people who could otherwise have used it. The scheme will have to be administered which will be resource intensive. Keep Streets Live Campaign strongly recommends not having pre-booked slots at all and encouraging buskers to swap and share pitches on an informal basis.

 

5.) If all the slots have not been filled in advance, then on the day before noon a busker can take up an additional slot provided that they have not already used that same site on the same day. Is this restriction appropriate to allow fair distribution of slots?

 

 

Some buskers will have a large repertoire which would allow to play different performances at the same location on the same day. Pre-booking slots is unnecessary and will, in itself, lead to an unfair and uneven distribution of slots. Existing statutory powers can be used against buskers who cause issues by not moving. The introduction of a licensing regime with pitch allocations and pre-booked slots will greatly reduce the vibrancy and circulation of performers.

 

6.) Do you agree that the council should allow street buskers to apply for an additional street trading license?

 

 

This question relates to CDs of busker’s music. Having recordings available to the public enhances the busking experience by allowing performers to make their music available to a wider audience and allowing the public to enjoy a tangible souvenir of the busker’s performance. Nonetheless, CDs are a secondary element to busking and should therefore be made available on a voluntary basis to those who wish to take one. Best Practice Guidance agreed between Liverpool City Council and the Keep Streets Live Campaign recommends that CDs be made available for a ‘suggested and voluntary contribution’. It is emphasised that members of the public are free to take a CD without making payment, just as they are free to enjoy the performance without making payment. Requiring an additional street trading license for busking is another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy which will put off performers from registering under the scheme, and discourages buskers from making their music available to the public to the detriment of the busking experience. Whereas for a market trader the sale of stock is the primary purpose of their business, for a busker CDs are a secondary aspect of the busking performance. This is an important difference that needs to be recognised.

 

7.) If you are a busker will you be willing to pay the initial £15 fee for a period of 6 months?

 

Whilst the £15 fee in itself is not prohibitive it accompanies a huge range of terms and conditions and restrictions that, taken together, greatly inhibit the ability of working musicians to make a living on the streets. It criminalises an informal cultural pursuit, it creates obstacles for travelling performers and it attempts to impose a highly formalised set of regulations upon an informal cultural pastime which has always relied on spontaneity and democratic access to public space. Busking adds vibrancy and colour to public spaces, increases dwell time for local businesses and is an enormous part of the visitor economy to London. Musicians should not have to pay for the privilege of providing free entertainment to the general public whilst enhancing the shared public spaces of the borough. The license scheme is a misconceived attempt to address problems that have been caused by a small minority of performers who could be dealt with using existing statutory powers. We recommend that Kensington and Chelsea engage with the Greater London Authority taskforce and agree a code of conduct for busking that works for all parties. If the aim is to attract high quality performers into the borough, this scheme will achieve the opposite. It will create a narrow pool of performers who are willing to sign up to the restrictions (who may well not be buskers in the traditional sense, and will predominately only perform within the Borough), and will deter many other performers from ever visiting. Over time it will greatly diminish the vibrancy and variety of street performances on offer in this part of London

 

8.) If you are a busker would you pay £40 for a period of 4 weeks to sell associated items?

 

Whilst we welcome the fact that RBKC recognise that ‘associated items’ are a legitimate aspect of busking, we recommend that buskers do not sell CDs but make them available for a suggested and voluntary donation. A street trading licence is unnecessary to that end and the cost of it is prohibitive relative to the amount of time slots RBKC are making available for busking.

 

 

9.) Do you have any further comments concerning this draft Street Entertainment (Busking) Policy?

 

On behalf of the Keep Streets Live Campaign of which I am the founding director I will send you a PDF document containing the best practice guidance agreed between the City Council, Business Improvement District and the busking community in Liverpool over a period of five months. It aims to give businesses, buskers and residents the resources they need to resolve disputes and to allow street culture to flourish. It could be adapted for use in Kensington and Chelsea at a fraction of the cost of the imposition of the Licensing Regime that is proposed. Keep Streets Live is part of the Mayoral taskforce for busking alongside RBKC and would be very happy to work alongside your officers and other bodies such as the Musician’s Union to agree a scheme that works for all parties.

Liverpool Leads the Way

Liverpool Leads the Way

Two years is a long time in street politics

What a difference a couple of years makes!

In the summer of 2012 Liverpool City Council caused consternation amongst the grassroots cultural community when they introduced a controversial busking policy placing severe restrictions on the right to perform music and art in public spaces within the city. Anybody wishing to busk in the city was to be required to pay a license and to purchase a minimum of £10 million worth of public liability insurance (Usually costing over £100). The policy included a ban on all under-18 performers and what was dubbed ‘the Simon Cowell clause’ which allowed any civic or police official the power to pull the plug on a performance on the grounds that ‘it was not of sufficient quality’. Most controversially unlicensed buskers were to be issued with threats of trespass prosecutions on the public highway for ‘unauthorised’ performances. The Keep Streets Live Campaign was born in opposition to these plans which would have made Liverpool perhaps the least-busker friendly city within the UK. Following a petition, street protests and a formal legal challenge, Liverpool Council listened to the concerns of the Keep Streets Live Campaign and dropped their old policy in September 2012.

Well over a year later in January 2014 the Keep Streets Live Campaign received an invitation from the City Council to participate in talks to design new guidance for busking in the city, this time with the full and active involvement of the wider busking community. An open invitation was issued to buskers to be part of the process and, over a period of 7 months, around 15 face to face meetings were held between buskers, the Musician’s Union, Liverpool BID Company and the City Council to produce guidance that all could agree upon.

One of the key aspects of the new guidance is the provisions for buskers to have regular open meetings both amongst the busking community and with the City Council to discuss issues as they arise. This is to help good relationships amongst buskers and to ensure that buskers and the Council remain engaged in a positive, ongoing dialogue.

Buskers will not be required to get a license before they perform in the city but instead asks them to be considerate and respectful of other users of shared public spaces, and in turn, asks businesses and public officials who have issues with buskers to let them know in a polite and considerate way. It marks a complete watershed in the way that busking is overseen within the City of Liverpool and ensures that this world famous music city is leading the way in its active encouragement of street culture.

Promoting Harmony on the Streets

The Guide to Busking in Liverpool has been produced as a joint initiative with Musicians’ Union (MU), Liverpool City Council, the Keep Streets Live Campaign and the Business Improvement District (BID).

The 12 page best practice guide advises buskers, council officers, businesses and residents on issues such as pitch selection, noise levels and the best way of resolving issues. A laminated advice card is also being produced which highlights guidance and recommendations.

This move represents a new approach to street entertainment in Liverpool. In 2012 a managed system of buskers with licensed pitches was to be introduced but was opposed by buskers and the MU and the idea was dropped.

It is anticipated that that the new guidance will help reduce the number of complaints and lead to those which continue being resolved amicably. It also sets out the procedures for enforcement should this prove necessary.

Morris Stemp, North of England Regional Organiser for the Musicians’ Union, said:

“This is a real achievement for all parties concerned, and I’d like to congratulate Liverpool City Council and the BID for engaging so actively with interested parties and organisations to be with us at the forefront of this initiative.

“The aim of the guide is to foster a vibrant street culture which allows for spontaneity whilst at the same time making provision for constructively resolving any issues that may arise using existing statutory powers, and is an example I anticipate many will want to follow. It also blows apart the myth that busking is in some way illegal.

“This is in stark contrast to some less pragmatic authorities and councils, where heavy handed regulation and over-zealous bureaucracy stifle self-expression. Buskers in Liverpool now have a guide that will help nurture music and other art forms on the streets, with all the benefits this will bring to the city, to buskers and to wider society.

“I believe that collaborations such as this, where street entertainment is rightly valued and encouraged, will be the future for busking in cities, towns and villages in this country. I would urge other authorities to follow Liverpool’s pragmatic approach and let us help them provide a landscape which nurtures the talents which our members can provide.”

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said;

“It represents an entirely new approach to busking in Liverpool, a city famous for its culture and music. By working together with the busking community we will bring our streets alive for the benefit of everyone.”

Councillor Steve Munby, cabinet member for neighbourhoods said:

“I think visitors to the city would be surprised and disappointed if they didn’t find a lively street music culture, given the city’s reputation. But we also know there are complaints from business and visitors about noise and obstructions so we have tried to balance the needs of all parties.

“I don’t mind making mistakes as long as we learn from them. We recognised that an imposed solution was never going to work so we have brought together a range of organisations to produce this guide. This has been a unique partnership which bodes well for the future of street entertainment. I’m really grateful to everyone who’s been involved.

“The guide sets out a positive way forward and if everybody follows the guidance in it we can have a thriving street culture based on good relationships.”

Jonny Walker, Founding director of the Keep Streets Live Campaignsaid:

“The collaborative approach that Liverpool City Council have modelled in putting together this busking guidance makes it a pioneer amongst major cities worldwide in its active support for grassroots street culture.

“The busking community has had the unique opportunity of working alongside the local authority, the BID and the Musicians’ Union to preserve the spontaneity and informality which is intrinsic to the nature of busking, whilst actively seeking to build good relationships between all those who share public space in the city. It is right that buskers should be closely involved in decisions that affect them and it is to Liverpool City Council’s immense credit that they chose to include the busking community at all stages in the production of this guidance.

“The busking community will continue to cooperate with the local authority to ensure the ongoing success of this new approach, and will hold a regular open buskers’ meeting which all are welcome to attend. We are confident that this guidance will help to harness the capacity of busking to transform the experience of shared public spaces in the city, and to continue to play its part in what makes Liverpool such a wonderful place to live, work and visit.”

Bill Addy, Chief Executive of Liverpool BID Company, said:

“We welcome the introduction of this guide. It brings some clarity as to what is expected of everyone to ensure the vibrancy of Liverpool city centre is a cause for celebration and not consternation. Street entertainment can be a huge added bonus to the appeal of a city centre and this guide is a very encouraging step forward in ensuring Liverpool gets the balance right for all parties.”

The new guidance is being introduced in September with the first open busker’s meeting due to take place on the evening of Tuesday 23rd September at 7pm at the Lomax. On behalf of the Keep Streets Live Campaign I urge everyone who cherishes Liverpool’s vibrant street culture to come along, all are welcome.

Jonny Walker

Founding director, Keep Streets Live Campaign