Council to crackdown on busking as thousands of noise complaints made

By Adrian Zorzut, Local Democracy Reporter

A council is one step closer to enforcing new busking rules after agreeing to run their plans past the public for comment.

Westminster City council backed tweaking its street entertainment policy to up the licence fee to between £20 and £30 and banning amps in an area of Leicester Square during a meeting on Tuesday evening.

The council said the plans should help tackle some of the issues raised in the more than 5,000 complaints, mostly about noise, it has received from businesses and residents since the licensing regime was launched in April 2021.

The proposals, which are open to public consultation between January 8 and March 18 next year, include restricting licences to weekends and daylight hours for 14-year-olds to under 18s, and ensuring they have consent from a parent or guardian. They will also bar under 14s from getting a licence following concerns about safeguarding issues.

The local authority also wants to establish a new forum to allow bodies representing buskers and street performers to liaise with them and partner with police to make sure laws are followed and reduce the number of buskers entertaining at one time.

A council official explained during last night’s meeting that officers are met by unlicensed buskers who either refuse to engage or whip up the crowd against them.

The official said: “Compliance and enforcement is a real challenge around this. It’s the same for any licensing regime where we are the enforcing body.”

The current regime regulates busking in prime tourist hotspots across Westminster following complaints of performers blocking busy walkways or being too noisy.

The council insists they are not banning busking but instead are seeking to “strike a balance between supporting performers and addressing the issues of excessive noise, overcrowding, and inappropriate locations”.

Part of this is banning amps in northeastern Leicester Square because of noise complaints and raising the licence fee to recoup some of the cost of regulating the popular street trade.

The council acknowledged busking and street entertainment plays a pivotal role in drawing people into the City but said it was currently leading to “adverse impacts”.

A council report read: “The excessive volume of daily loud or amplified performances disrupts residents and businesses, prompting complaints. Some areas, due to their nature, design, and use, prove unsuitable for busking, causing pedestrian congestion and safety issues”.

Between April 2021 to May 2023, the council has received 5,070 complaints with just over half of those relating to noise. A large number of complaints between April 2021 and 2023 – some 25 per cent – were in Leicester Square. Only 5 per cent were in Covent Garden.

Pictured top: A busker in Covent Garden (Picture: Mabel Lu/Flickr)

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