For some, busking is a noisy nuisance that obstructs the pavements. For others it is an essential part of the vibrancy of London. The Mayor and the GLA are on a mission to increase busking but some boroughs seem unconvinced and it remains a contentious issue open to local rules and by-laws.
City Hall’s promotion of busking steps up a gear throughout the next few weeks with the Busk in London festival until August 8th. It kicked off on Saturday 18th July, which was National Busking Day, if you didn’t know. In the coming weeks a large number of performers will showcase their talents in high profile locations like Trafalgar Square.
But away from festival time the rules on busking and its public acceptability are complex. London has a number of ‘official’ busking pitches, though the GLA dislikes using the term official as it points out that busking is legal on any public land in the UK.
The GLA told Urbs that there are currently 70 established pitches which include 39 in the London Underground, 14 on the Southbank, 11 around Covent Garden, 4 in Hillingdon Town Centre, 1 at One New Change Shopping Centre near St Paul’s and 1 at the O2 Centre on Finchley Road.
For buskers the problems centre on knowing when a location is on public land and whether their act is causing an obstruction or a noise nuisance, when a number of different laws may be used to move them on.
The GLA has tried to combat this by producing a Buskers’ Code to help potential performers choose a pitch and build up a good relationship with local people.
So far just 6 of the 33 boroughs have signed up – Westminster, Islington, Southwark, Hounslow, Kingston and Redbridge.
Camden, known for its music venues, has sought to restrict busking by introducing a license scheme and £1,000 fines for anyone caught busking without one.
Busking is not allowed at all in the City of London. The Corporation sites the Police & Factories (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1916 as the reason why.
The GLA says it is hopes to sign up more boroughs to its code soon and is talking to Network Rail about pitches at the big main railway stations.
It estimates that about 1,000 buskers are regularly performing in London. TfL says that performers at its 39 marked pitches at 25 Tube stations provide 100,000 hours of music for commuters each year.
If the Mayor, Boris Johnson, has his way their be more music and street theatre. In launching the code of conduct and his annual Gigs busking competition for under 25s he said: ”’Busking adds to the capital’s joie de vivre, but in spite of its popularity, buskers have sometimes encountered problems when plying their trade.”
The GLA estimates that music tourism generates £600 million for the London economy each year and that live performances enhance public spaces. And if City Hall gets its way you’ll be seeing a lot more of it.