Cheshire West and Chester City Council’s Assault on Street Culture

Cheshire West and Chester City Council’s Assault on Street Culture

Please sign the petition to stop the criminalisation of the homeless and buskers in Chester

Cheshire West and Chester Council have decided that it would be a good idea to deal with homelessness not by providing shelter for the vulnerable but by making it a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £1000 to ‘lie down or sleep in any public place’.

In a wide-ranging proposal to tackle ‘antisocial behaviour’ in the city using controversial new Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) powers they are also planning to criminalise buskers who haven’t passed a ‘quality assessment’ first though the private business group CH1 BID company. This proposal turns council officials into civic Simon Cowells with a nasty twist, the power to give musicians a criminal record for singing songs on the streets. It is attack on the spontaneity and informality which is part of what makes busking such an integral part of Chester’s cultural heritage. Ludicrously, the proposed PSPO would also make it a criminal offence to ‘feed any bird’ in the defined area.

When Oxford City Council introduced similar proposals over 72,000 people signed a petition asking them to think again and Liberty issued a legal challenge calling on them to abandon their unlawful attempts to criminalise homeless people and buskers.

As Rosie Brighouse, Legal Officer for Liberty rightly pointed out in that challenge:

“If somebody is forced to beg or sleep in a public toilet, that’s not antisocial behaviour – it’s poverty. Oxford City Council should focus on finding ways to help the most vulnerable people in their city, not slapping them with a criminal record and a fine they can’t possibly afford to pay.

One of the architects of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s proposals, Chief Inspector Jez Taylor, a partnership officer with Cheshire Police, has justified them in the following terms:

“Chester is one of the best preserved medieval walled cities in the United Kingdom. Its Roman heritage and many assets including the cathedral, the walls, the racecourse, the zoo and the river…a PSPO will…improve the image of the city centre

But this approach to policy making privileges the appearance of Chetser and surrounding areas over its’ citizens’ wellbeing, and risks treating rough sleepers, the vulnerable and even buskers as a problem to be dealt with, as an inconvenience, as a threat, rather than as individual human beings.

 The Keep Streets Live Campaign is a not for profit organisation which advocates for public spaces which are open to informal offerings of art and music. We have successfully overturned policies which criminalised buskers in Liverpool and York where we now work with the councils to design best practise policies for street culture alongside groups like the Musician’s Union.

We are calling on Cheshire West and Chester Council to abandon their plan to criminalise rough sleeping, begging and busking. The council and police have strong existing powers to deal with the small minority of people who cause genuine antisocial behaviour, they have no need for the proposed sweeping and arbitrary measures.  We have seen public pressure prevent similar measures being adopted in Oxford, Westminster and Hackney and know that public pressure can stop this from happening in Chester too. Please take a moment to sign and share this petition to stop Cheshire West and Chester Council from making homelessness harder than it already is.

This post was written by
Singer-Songwriter/Professional Street Performer/Campaigner/Wandering Minstrel

3 Comments on "Cheshire West and Chester City Council’s Assault on Street Culture"

  • This small city is top-heavy with quangos and ‘business interests’- CWaC, CH1 BID, Chester Renaissance, the police, the Grosvenors, the race company.. they snap their fingers and we all must obey.
    Today it’s musicians, pigeon fanciers and the homeless. Tomorrow- who knows?
    Not any more. Time to take a stand. Sign the petition and make your voice heard!

  • David Leedham says

    Any Public Space Protection Order as is suggested for Chester will have the potential to cover a myriad of issues such as the anti-social aspects of homelessness, begging, the taking of legal highs, public drunkenness, dossing down and sleeping where ever individuals choose, busking, and the feeding pigeons.
    We have to understand that the highly organized petition of ‘Keep Streets Live’ and the like are part of a national movement that is entirely political and largely indifferent to the situations residents face.
    How many people who signed actually live in Chester? How many are over 25, free of juvenile half-baked romantic twaddle about rights and freedom?
    How many actually know in detail what the council does to provide for the homeless in Chester?
    How many who signed know what has been happening at the Cross in the very centre of this city which depends on tourism for its survival? Do those who signed want the unrestricted selling and taking of ‘legal highs’ even though they are responsible for the deaths and misery of thousands? Do they want more such shops? Do they want drunks to virtually take control of certain areas?
    Would any of the signees volunteer to clean up after the mindless individuals who urinate and defecate in the Rows, where often, only hours later, parties of school-children unpack their sandwiches?
    Do those who so glibly clicked their keypads want pigeons to be fed all over the city? Do they support the cranks that defeat attempts to restrict their numbers by depositing bird food about the place while the rest of us sleep? Do they know anything of the damage to buildings and to individuals caused by these disease-carrying vermin?
    The culture of this city, weak as it is, does not depend on poorly educated individuals who think they can ‘express’ themselves wherever they want whatever their lack of talent. No one is attempting to clear the streets of performers – some have real gifts – but ask those poor people who have to work in shops bombarded by the noise of the talentless for hours on ends what they think.
    Do we want the growing army of teenage pole carriers advertising the least salubrious aspects of this city’s ‘offer’? Or would these petitioners like all shops to put these sorts of adverts on the streets in the free-for-all they advocate?
    All the council is doing is to exercise powers granted by government to help us, those who live and work here, take back control of our streets from those who instead would drag us all down into the gutter.
    Police and Police Community Support Officers, still remarkably clueless as to their roles, need clear guidance and authority. In this way, the absolutely appalling behaviour to be seen at times in Chester can be dealt with effectively by referrals to rehabilitation programmes, hostels, police cells or prison, with on the spot fines for lesser offences.
    One hopes that this petition of nameless outsiders is no more than the last gasp of an uneducated malign underclass and its misguided politically-motivated manipulators. For let us be clear, we are dealing with people, many of whom, though their own fecklessness and stupidity and not government cuts, would be happy to see this city, like them, brought to its knees, in the process holding up two fingers to all our costly efforts to help.
    David Leedham

    • Jonny says

      This petition specifically objects to the inclusion of busking, feeding birds, and ‘Lying down and sleeping in any public place’ on the proposed PSPO. It makes no reference to the measures as they relate to so-called legal highs.

      Whenever new legislative measures are proposed, especially ones that create new categories of criminal offence it is prudent to ask whether existing laws can be used to deal with issues.

      In the case of busking there is no justification for making busking itself a criminal offence. It is completely inappropriate to turn the private business group Chester BID CH1 into the arbiter of what constitutes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ busking. This fundamentally misconstrues what busking is, namely an informal and spontaneous aspect of the cultural life of Chester’s public spaces. Many buskers are students still at school gaining valuable experience of performing in a dynamic and exciting context. Formalising busking through ‘designated’ pitches and auditions will have the effect of excluding many people from becoming buskers in Chester, it will also put established performers off from coming to Chester because who in their right mind would want to play in a city where you could face a criminal record and a fine of £1000 for singing songs in the wrong place without pre-approval from an unqualified business funded bureaucrat. It is an absurd proposal, at odds with the current strength of Chester’s cultural offering, costly and contentious to administer, a perfect example of gesture politics.

      There is a wide array of existing powers which can and should be used in cases where buskers cause genuine nuisance. The busking community does not object to proportionate measures targeting specific examples of problematic behaviour, what they do object to is the invention of a new criminal offence attached to summary powers which could be used against any busker even when no nuisance was being caused. If you think it is ‘good for tourism’ to have videos of police arresting musicians on the streets beamed around the world via social media you lack understanding of why people visit Chester (hint, it’s not just to shop at Topshop).

      You imply in your post that the PSPO is aimed at the ‘antisocial aspects’ of homelessness but the police backed proposals make sleeping or lying down in any public place itself a criminal offence. This is absurd and targets punitive action against some of the most vulnerable people in society. It has nothing to do with concern about ‘antisocial behaviour’ and everything to do with seeking to remove the visibility of destitution from touristic areas in Chester for the sake of maintaining a certain ‘image’.

      Once again, a city that targets homeless people with measures that criminalise and ostracise them is unworthy of a good image and will rightly attract public censure and national attention.

      By all means allow the police to target enforcement action against recalitrant individuals who are causing genuine problems for residents, but not through the expansion of arbitrary powers, but instead through the judicious and expedient use of existing powers in partnership with those agencies that are already working alongside the homeless and vulnerable at a time when funding to provide help to this marginalised group is being cut at a national level.

      These proposed measures, which include making it a criminal offence to feed ducks, have everything to do with administrative convenience and nothing to do with the wellbeing of the people of Chester. They are an insult to democracy and a clear example of why the police need to be held to account and scrutinised when they ask for new powers when old powers suffice perfectly well.

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