Trade unions have weighed in on plans to regulate busking in areas such as Kensington’s museum district, and Portobello Road market.
The council said it received “1,136 complaints of anti-social busking” from residents and businesses in 2018, with many bemoaning performers repeating the same songs and occupying the same locations.
One respondent criticised a harpist, often found in the tunnels leading to South Kensington station beneath Exhibition Road, who “incessantly” plays the song, My Heart Will Go On, from the Titanic movie soundtrack.
The council said it must “strike a balance” between the needs of residents and performers. When it ran a survey of 413 residents last year, almost 70% were in favour of developing public space protection orders (PSPOs). These would allow rules from a new busking “code of conduct” to be enforced in tourist hotspots, using fines.
Among the proposed rules for the code of conduct are:
- Performers “shall ensure a full and varied repertoire”
- A performance in any one location must be for no more than 45 minutes
- Buskers and street entertainers shall not perform in the same location twice in any one day
- No use of “amplifiers, loud speakers, megaphones or any similar equipment”
But buskers have hit back, and a change.org petition calling for the PSPOs to be stopped has gained 1,250 signatures.
Michael Day of the theatre industry trade union, Equity, with about 44,000 UK members, said PSPOs should not stop people “trying to make a living” from street performing.
“We think PSPOs are appropriate against anti-social behaviour like drinking, drug taking and prostitution,” Mr Day said. “We have consistently responded when councils have proposed PSPOs or licensing rules for busking. We will be responding on behalf of members in the area.”
A spokesperson for the Musicians’ Union, which claims 30,000 members, said: “Buskers have entertained the public on Portobello Road, in the South Kensington museum district for many years. These are considered iconic locations for street performers. The Musicians’ Union is concerned by the punitive measures that [the council] wants to introduce to curb this vital stream of revenue for musicians.”
The council’s lead member for the environment, Councillor Cem Kemahli said: “If we are to maintain our proud tradition of being a global powerhouse of music – more needs to be done to support and regulate our busking community.
“We need to strike a balance between what works for both residents and street performers. Our goal is to ensure that street entertainment doesn’t reduce the quality of life for residents.
“Our proposals to regulate busking were created after a full consultation with local people, businesses and representatives from the busking community. We will continue the conversation around the current proposals and test how they will work in practice.”