As with so many things in the public realm, entertainment on the street can be a welcome addition to the visitor experience or a source or irritation and complaints – it all depends on good management.
Dealing with street entertainers can be challenging where it is not clear which department within a local authority holds the relevant responsibility, and can lead to different approaches being adopted.
Busking, probably the most common form of street entertainment, can add character and vibrancy to the street scene. However, busking can be a nuisance if performers choose poor locations, present themselves poorly, play too loudly (or cannot play to begin with), or too many buskers try to occupy a small space. It is also important to break the perceived link between busking and begging, and to draw the line between busking and trading on the street. The natural solution is for local partnerships to work with buskers to manage these potential issues for mutual benefit. A word of caution however - according to the Performing Rights Society, any formal attempts to manage busking through a permit system may result in the local authority becoming liable for the payment of royalties for any copyrighted material the buskers play. This has not yet been tested in court, but clearly local authorities are unlikely to be keen on taking the risk.
Street entertainment which includes equipment (e.g. amplifiers) may cause obstructions in which case the Highways Act 1980 in England and Wales provides an enforcement route. The noise levels from amplifiers can be restricted under the Noise and Nuisance Act 1993 to protect those nearby provided evidence of unreasonable noise levels can be given – a hand held decibel reader may be required.
Another option is to provide a voluntary booking system for times and locations, allowing performers the opportunity they seek while giving local partnerships a measure of control to maintain standards and safety, including ensuring that the street entertainers have public liability insurance to indemnify the local authority in the event of an accident.
Local byelaws differ, for example; London has additional powers under the London Authorities Act 2000 meaning busking can only take place at times and locations permitted by the local authority, so check your local laws before embarking on any legal remedies to dealing with busking.