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Covent Garden: Westminster Council to let public help decide on new rules for buskers

A street performer in Covent Garden (PA)
A street performer in Covent Garden (PA)

A public consultation will be launched to help Westminster council decide whether and how to regulate street performers in Covent Garden.

Councillors met on Tuesday evening to discuss how to make sure performers comply with a licencing system which came into effect in 2021. The regime has been boycotted by 100 members of the Covent Garden Street Performers Association (CGSPA) who say they are being driven off the streets by red tape.

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

But many who entertain people in Covent Garden and Leicester Square have complained that the proposals will essentially put them out of business.

The Labour-run council’s proposals include possibly partnering with police to make sure laws are followed, banning amps in certain areas, reducing the number of buskers entertaining at one time and designating pitch locations.

It is also looking at charging performers a licencing fee between £20 and £30 with a discount for students.

The council wants to hold a public consultation from January 8 to March 18 next year.

Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Protection, Councillor Aicha Less, said: "The busking and street entertainment policy was introduced two years ago to preserve the tradition of live street entertainment in Westminster, which is hugely popular with visitors to the city, and to ensure busking and street entertainment operates in a safe and responsible way.

"The council’s licensing committee met on December 4 to discuss options to tweak the existing policy. A ban on busking has never been proposed and never will be."

Covent Garden has a 400-year-old tradition of busking, with several high-profile British celebrities getting their start in the area.

These include Eddie Izzard, Dynamo and Pierce Brosnan – who reportedly began as a fire-eater there.

CGSPA elected representative Pete Kolofsky told The Times ahead of the council’s meeting: “Covent Garden is a quintessentially British cultural institution. I’d say it is the most famous street performance venue in the world.”

He went on to pre-empt arguments in favour of regulation, citing figures which show that out of the 5,070 noise complaints the council received between April 2021 and May this year, only 5 per cent involved performers.

Mr Kolofsky also claims that the majority of shops in the area have signed a petition in support of the association.

The CGSPA also insists that self-regulation is working, with all members required to have public liability insurance and complete risk assessments.