Labour-led Oxford City Council are in the process of creating new powers to make street music, art and performance in Oxford a potential criminal offence and subject to strict, arbitrary controls. A new 'crime' of 'non-compliant' busking has been proposed, punishable by fines of up to £2500 and a life long criminal record.
Riding bicycles on restricted streets, feeding pigeons, pavement art and sleeping rough will also become criminal offences under Oxford's plans to implement a wide-ranging Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), which, according to Labour Councillor Dee Sinclair one of the architects of these proposals, are aimed at any behaviours which 'might make people feel uncomfortable'.
Oxford is already one of the most restrictive cities for busking in the UK and currently requires all buskers to provide passports, driving licenses and/or birth certificates as proof of identity, as well as an additional proof of address, before issuing them with photo ID 'Busking Cards' which they are required to carry in order to be 'allowed' to busk. They have a highly prescriptive code of conduct which places strict and arbitrary limits on where (There are only 8 places in the city where busking is allowed), when, and for how long buskers can play (no longer than 60 minutes), stipulates that they must not be heard plainly from 50 metres, and must stop performing for any reason if told to do so by a police or council officer (turning public officials into 'civic Simon Cowells' who can stop performances that they don't like). Under their plans it will be a criminal offence to be caught busking in the 'wrong' way, on the 'wrong' spot or for the 'wrong length' of time, and officials (including private contractors working for the council) will have the power to issue on the spot fines.
Oxford City Council spuriously claim that 'non-compliant' buskers cause 'unfair and unsafe' practices (which they don't specify) and that they need additional powers to use against those buskers who don't comply with their code of conduct. However they are one of the only cities in the entire UK to propose making busking a criminal offence. Most towns and cities in the UK (Including Cambridge, Canterbury, Bath, Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, St Albans, Newcastle, Glasgow, Bournemouth and many others) do not require performers to obtain a 'Busking Card' or license before performing, and instead publish a best practise guide only taking action against the small minority of buskers who cause real issues. There are a wide range of existing powers that councils can use to deal with noise nuisance, obstruction or antisocial behaviour. Oxford's proposals represent an unnecessary misuse of legislation by criminalising a cultural activity which causes no harm.
The Keep Streets Live Campaign is a not for profit organisation which exists to protect and support informal and spontaneous performances of art and music in public spaces. We have successfully challenged unjust busking policies in Liverpool, York and Canterbury where we now work alongside the local authority in those cities to introduce Best Practise Guides for busking that promote good relationships between buskers and those they share the streets without the need for restrictive legislation. We have also advised the Mayor of London on his 'Busk in London' scheme designed to make London 'the most busker friendly city in the world'.
We urgently invite Oxford City Council to abandon their attempt to criminalise and marginalise street artists and musicians by using a PSPO to regulate busking, and instead to work alongside the Musican's Union, local buskers and the Keep Streets Live Campaign to build on the work done in other places to develop a best practise guide that protects spontaneity and promotes a vibrant street culture for all who live, work and visit Oxford.