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Buskers face pay-to-play pitch battle

New ‘code of conduct’ could come in for musicians and entertainers

10 January, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Cllr Ian Adams: ‘Every day buskers bring life and vibrancy to West End streets, but we also deal with around 1,800 complaints a year from residents and businesses over excessive noise and overcrowding caused by street entertainers’

WEST End street performers will have to pay to play for the first time if the council introduces a new busking regime.

Musicians, magicians, comedians, artists and dancers will only be able to perform in “designated pitches” in Oxford Street, Leicester Square, Chinatown, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden.

Westminster Council’s new scheme, due to be agreed today (Friday), would see busking and street entertainment “prohibited in all the areas” apart from “designated pitches” where only licensed acts can perform.

The council says it recognises the “cultural contribution” from busking in the West End but has lost patience with hundreds of complaints it gets each year, mainly from tourist streets in Oxford Street and Covent Garden.

A report said residents often complained about “lack of repertoire” and “quality of the acts” from performers while businesses, which are driving the changes, have warned of “entire meeting rooms being unusable due to the level of noise in the square”.

There have also been objections to “use of amplifiers and loud instruments, including percussive instruments such as pots” and “sound clash from multiple loud buskers”.

More than 1,500 complaints were received in eight months to November 2019 while the Metropolitan Police Service say crowding around acts “has attracted crime and created safety risks”.

Busking groups have warned of the impact on the creative feel of the West End and say the council should not be squeezing hard-up musicians who are often on low and uncertain incomes. There would be a £20 charge every six months for the licence to perform.

The Musicians’ Union and Keep Streets Live campaign group, which was set up to support buskers and street entertainers, has been “most strongly opposed to the premise of regulation, as it would impact on their ability to work and risks the alienation of many buskers”.

A summary of the groups’ objections said the majority of buskers and street entertainers were “responsible” and “those who are irresponsible and causing a problem should be managed by the council with the enforcement powers they already have”.

The Keep Streets Live group website noted: “If proposed restrictions in Westminster go ahead there will be virtually no viable and publicly accessible locations for performers almost anywhere across central London, with an area from Hammersmith and Fulham across to Tower Hamlets and up to Camden effectively off-limits.”

A petition against similar restrictions in Kensington was signed by more than 2000 people.

If a decision to press ahead with the plans is taken by the licensing committee today, a six-week public consultation will begin on January 14.

A Westminster Busking and Street Entertainment Forum would be set up with a code of conduct for entertainers.

Ian Adams, council cabinet member for public protection and licensing, said: “Every day buskers bring life and vibrancy to West End streets, but we also deal with around 1,800 complaints a year from residents and businesses over excessive noise and overcrowding caused by street entertainers.

“We know that many street entertainers act in a responsible way, but also that there’s a minority that can have a negative impact.

“We want to strike the right balance so everyone can enjoy street entertainment, and developed our approach after a year’s engagement with key groups including residents, businesses and the busking community itself.

“Subject to approval, we aim to launch a six-week consultation on these plans and want as many people as possible to give us their views on our proposals.”

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