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Comic Izzard backs protest over ‘pointless’ busking restrictions

Performers could be banned from hundreds of streets across Westminster after rise in complaints about noise and overcrowding

03 November, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Eddie Izzard, centre, and friends at the protest in Covent Garden

ACTOR and comedian Eddie Izzard joined a protest against Westminster’s busking restrictions that street performers warn are “extraordinarily pointless”.

A new licensing scheme will make it illegal to busk on more than 1,000 streets in Westminster, with just 25 plots approved for performance.

Councillors say the changes are necessary because of rising complaints about noise and overcrowding.

But Mathew Boden, from the Westminster Street Performer Association (WSPA), said: “Many of the nearly 4,000 complaints appear not to be about busking at all. Some are complaints about rickshaws or are unverified and have little or no detail as to the nature of the issue. In many, the mere presence of a busker was recorded.”

A lot of the remaining complaints appeared to be about breaking the law and easily remedied with current legislation.

The new system would see performers having to apply for a busking licence and for there to be a 20-minute break between sessions. The measures will include Covent Garden for the first time.

Street entertainer Spikey Will with Tash and children. Photo: © Chas Pressmen

The protest in Covent Garden last Sunday included representatives from the Musicians’ Union, Equity, Keep Streets Live, The Busking Project, The Magic Circle, the Covent Garden Street Performers’ Association and the WSPA.

The groups had signed a statement saying the current rules “work better for residents, businesses and street performers” and they felt ignored through the consultation process.

A petition has also been launched.

Jim Woodcock, from the Covent Garden Association, said: “We would have been very happy to work with them. However, they then decided in July to include Covent Garden within the list of restricted areas, but didn’t tell us this until September, providing no explanation as to why they had changed their minds.”

At a council meeting last month, the reason given for Covent Garden being included was concerns from the historic square’s private management company, Capco, about a surge in problem buskers being displaced from the West End through the scheme.

Nick Broad, from The Busking Project, said: “The most mystifying part is that Westminster Council has chosen to limit noise and overcrowding during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. If they would only pop their heads outside for a moment, they’d see that these restrictions are extraordinarily pointless right now.”

Covid-19 is having a devastating impact on musicians.

The council’s consultation said: “We receive around 1,800 complaints each year about excessive noise or overcrowding caused by busking.

“For more than a year we have been engaging with residents, businesses, buskers and street entertainers to develop a new policy that we hope will support street entertainment while protecting residents and businesses from impacts of excessive noise and overcrowding that can be caused by busking. Following the results of an initial consultation in January we have updated our proposals to include licensing across the West End and surrounding areas.”

A decision is expected in November.

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