Busking is under attack. Our worst fears of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act are being realised. Street performers are falling foul of laws designed to break up dangerous public gatherings and risk being branded as criminals.
Community Protection Notices and Dispersal Orders are now being routinely- and improperly - used by the police and local authorities to restrict freedom of expression and movement by street performers and to introduce licensing by the back door.
Recently in Romford a man was issued with a Dispersal Order before he had even played a note. The police warned that he was 'likely' to play loud music, something which they claim drives crime.
Whilst busking is facing the brunt of this attack there are a many areas deserving attention as the Government and local authorities stamp their authoritarian feet down. So called 'public spaces protection orders' are being used to not only criminalise busking but the everyday lives of civilians and the activities of the homeless.
In Kettering under 18s are now under curfew from 11pm to 6am under and skateboarding is now a criminal offence. In Exeter the council want the power to seize and destroy the possessions of homeless people. In Southampton, loitering with intent to beg is now a criminal offence. In Oxford the council have proposed a ban any activity they judge to make people 'feel uncomfortable'.
All the indications are that so far 80 councils have introduced public space protection orders are more are threatening to bring them in. This is all despite assurances from the Government that thee laws would not be used in this way. Ministers made it clear in their guidance that they should not use the new powers to stop reasonable activities such as busking or other forms of street entertainment that have nothing to do with anti-social behaviour. Now, a few years down the line, they have forgotten and authoritarian new measures are creeping in to our town centres.
I raised this in the House of Lords, calling on the Government to update the rules. It was quite clear that they will continue to ignore the problem. It is worrying that such a simple change will protect a key part of urban culture yet the Government does nothing and continues on in denial. There seems to be a confidence at the top levels that words not actions speak louder.
People across the nation are protesting the current rules. There is perhaps a poetic justice in seeing laws that damage our streets and towns so vociferously protested against on the streets and towns across the country. I am just one voice in many but I will keep shouting. The Government must be held to account, the sooner they wake up to the problem the sooner we can save our town centres.
We cannot have local authorities and police services cracking down on our culture, ripping out the heart of our town centres, and destroying the vibrancy in our local communities. We must seek changes to the law or we risk losing the soul of our public spaces.
Lord Clement-Jones is a Lib Dem peer and the party spokesperson for culture, media and sport in the House of Lords