The Musicians’ Union is fighting restrictions faced by buskers performing at some of London’s busiest tourist spots, which have been implemented following a rise in complaints.
Earlier this year, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea announced tougher regulations on street performers through Public Space Protection Orders, meaning busking will be restricted and in some cases banned.
The borough is home to attractions including the Natural History Museum and the V&A, as well as popular spots including Portobello Road.
The MU said it was disappointed by the borough’s actions and “completely opposes” the use of PSPOs as a way of regulating busking, and has partnered with campaign group Keep Streets Live to fight the decision.
The union said its busking code of conduct, which is used in London as part of the mayor’s Busk in London initiative, is a better way of regulating street performance, and added: “It is still surprising that local councillors do not see fit to use these successful schemes in their borough.”
More than 1,700 people have signed an online petition by Keep Streets Live calling on Kensington and Chelsea to stop the ban, arguing that the PSPO will “not only cause hardship to those who make a living performing in the area, but will substantially reduce its appeal as a vibrant tourist destination”.
Under the borough’s new rules, buskers must limit their performances to 45 minutes and restricts them from playing in the same location again in one day. It also says they must “ensure a full and vibrant repertoire” is performed.
In areas where the borough has classed busking as being of the “highest detrimental impact”, such as outside the Natural History Museum, musical instruments will now be banned but mime and living statues can continue. Theatrical performances and singing are also not allowed.
Buskers breaching the rules will be subject to fines, which it is thought will be around £100.
The council said the move followed a five-fold increase in complaints about buskers since 2014, with residents highlighting noise levels, amplifiers and limited repertoires as particular problems.
Not-for-profit organisation the Busking Project, which advocates for street performance, has launched an online platform and resource, which it said will encourage performers to discuss busking legislation, report where they have been fined and get legal help where needed.
The organisation said it had launched the project, which covers the whole of the UK, in response to the implementation of PSPOs to tackle busking by between 15 and 20 councils over the past five years.
Keep Streets Live has also estimated that between 20 and 30 further local authorities are considering using the orders to restrict busking.
The Busking Project said: “Our high streets are dying, live music venues are closing, arts funding is down and commercialism has permeated almost every part of the music industry.
“Busking is still a great, viable way for independent artists to make a living, but they’re facing increasing criminalisation and a world that’s simply not carrying cash anymore.”
It said it hoped the forum, the Busker’s Guide to the Galaxy, will help street performers continue to work successfully and offer support and a community.