Campaigners say 99% of traders on the Piazza are not in favour of Westminster Council clamping down on street performers.
Westminster Council is considering a crackdown on public entertainment that could severely limit street performers' ability to operate in London’s Covent Garden, it has been claimed.
The local authority previously introduced licensing regulations for street performers in April 2021, including restrictions on using amplified sound, props that could be perceived as dangerous, and limiting performance and spectating space to five square metres.
Covent Garden Street Performers Association (CGSPA) say its members have primarily ignored the restrictions, which have gone largely unenforced by Westminster Council, creating "a grey area". But the council is set to vote on whether to enlist more staff and the help of the police to enforce the scheme, with CGSPA saying such a move will make it "impossible” for the approximately 30 regular acts in the area to operate, forcing them to leave the Piazza before Christmas.
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Performer Peter Kolofsky said: “I juggle knives at the beginning of my show, do tricks with a bullwhip and then finish with a stunt called ‘The Sandwich of Death.’ If the council bans these so-called dangerous props, which in reality only give the illusion of danger, that would be the end of the line for me as a street performer.”
Council members will decide next month whether to discontinue the scheme, limit it to fewer areas, or continue and prioritise more resources for enforcing it. CGSPA says that based on communications it has had with the council, it believes members will vote for licence restrictions to be implemented.
'Breeding ground for talent'
CGSPA said that the performers in Covent Garden are “synonymous” with the area, calling the site “a breeding ground for talent who go on to wow audiences all over the world.”
A spokesperson for the organisation said: “For the past 40 years, the CGSPA has self-regulated its members to ensure they are well-behaved and safe. This has been extraordinarily successful, but Westminster Council are making what we do illegal.
"We urge councillors to vote for Covent Garden to be exempted from the Westminster-wide licence and leave the Covent Garden street performers to their own self-regulation”.
According to CGSPA, 99% of stall holders, shopkeepers, and cafe owners operating on the Piazza have signed a local business survey rejecting the council's proposals.
In a petition urging the council to reconsider their position, Equity’s campaign officer Gareth Forest said: “A vote for licensing will see the colour and vibrancy of magicians, musicians, jugglers, clowns, artists and players swept away and replaced by empty gentrified, sanitised high streets in Covent Garden. The reality is that most performers will be pushed out of the city centre as a result of licensing”.
Striking a balance
Aicha Less, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities, Public Protection and Licensing at Westminster Council, said: "There is no ban on busking in Westminster. We are not looking to introduce a ban on street performers and never have done. Buskers and street entertainers are a vibrant part of our city's culture and a popular attraction for visitors throughout the city.
"The committee meeting on the 4th December will be an opportunity for the council to consider making small changes to the current Busking & Street Entertainment Policy.
"It is important to strike a balance so that residents and businesses are not impacted with noisy performances or large crowds causing disruption."