Edinburgh’s councillors have voted to push for powers to move ‘nuisance’ buskers along and crackdown on amplified music at hotspot performing locations.
The issue of how to deal with excessively loud street performers has been considered for a number of years. However, the authority says all its existing powers have been “exhausted” and little has been done to address complaints raised by businesses and residents around the city centre.
Now a two-pronged plan will see the council asking the Scottish Government to give its street enforcement officers the ability to order troublesome buskers to move on. It will also explore creating a byelaw to deal with specific problems in specific areas – such as the Old Town, Waverley Bridge and Portobello Promenade.
Councillors stressed that buskers were an essential part of the capital’s cultural fabric. But they also say many living and working near hotspots often become frustrated with people “playing Wonderwall on repeat”.
It comes after a survey of around 1,000 residents found most were ‘strongly supportive’ of busking but excessive noise was having a “significant impact on residents and businesses nearby” – especially where the musician or artist has a “limited repertoire”.
Currently the police have powers to move on street performers but don’t have enough resources to enforce them. The council’s street team can only “politely ask” whether or not they can “cease their behaviour that is causing an annoyance,” senior council officer Gavin Brown told a meeting on Thursday (October 5).
He said: “Busking is one of the many things [street enforcement] do have to deal with but they just don’t have the powers to deal with it at the moment.
“We have exhausted all opportunities we can think of within the powers we have right now and members have clearly communicated, rightfully so, that this issue is not going away.”
City Centre councillor Finlay McFarlane, SNP, said: “When residents have come to myself with disputes, when they have gone up to buskers to say ‘excuse me please would you mind moving your pitch, you’ve been there for six hours playing Wonderwall on repeat and I’m at breaking point’ that there’s actually an awful lot of quite heated resistance from the buskers to that polite request.
“So what we’re doing is we’re pitting residents against people who are trying to make a living and it’s a really awful situation to be in that we are presiding over as a council.”
Paul Lawrence, director of place, said existing legislation is “out of pace with technology” as it has become easier to amplify sound in recent years.
He said: “I don’t believe buskers care that much to be honest, I can’t speak on behalf of buskers at all and I certainly can’t speak on behalf of all of them, but by and large they come here to make a few quid and if a resident comes up to them and says ‘look I’m hearing Wonderwall on repeat’ I don’t think they’re that bothered frankly.”
Mr Lawrence said the “most pragmatic and timeous” option to take action was to only proceed with requesting powers to move buskers along as creating a byelaw would be a “lengthy process which we may not be successful with”.
Officials said in a report the survey did not “provide an evidence base for the creation of a byelaw to tackle the nuisance of noise in public spaces at this time.” But the committee unanimously agreed it “could present a simple and clear set of rules” and requested further work to produce the evidence base required to introduce it.
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