Exclusive: Liverpool busking policy thrown out

'We got it wrong' says councillor as controversial plan goes back to drawing board

Written by  Angie Sammons | Follow @twangeee | Friday, 21 September 2012 08:14

LIVERPOOL CITY Council is to scrap its controversial new busking policy, Liverpool Confidential can reveal today. 

The decision comes three weeks after campaigners applied for a High Court injunction, barring its enforcement, saying it was unlawful, unreasonable and irrational. 

Then the council suspended the policy while it held a review. Today it has gone one further and thrown it out all together, with one councillor admitting it was “never enforceable”. 

A whole raft of new rules to “benefit buskers” sparked an outcry when they were introduced in July

They required acts to obtain £20 work permits, compulsory public liability insurance costing over £100, a ban on under-18 performers and the Simon Cowell clause which would allow any civic or police official the power to pull the plug on a performance if they judged it not to be good enough. 

'Rushed'

But rules are made to be broken, or, in this case, re-thought and now Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson has called for silence in court. 

The policy will now go back to the drawing board after the Mayor blamed a pressing court timetable which, he said, was putting constraints on its initial review. “I don't want it to be rushed in any way.” 

He said: “The common sense approach is for us to agree not to implement the policy so that the unnecessary court proceedings, with the associated costs for both sides, can be brought to an end. And we can instead get on with working together to deliver a solution which will satisfy everyone.” 

Mayor Anderson added: “Contrary to some of the misleading and overblown commentary about the changes, it was never our intention to limit their activity. The aim was to put arrangements in place that would benefit buskers.” 

Merseyside lawyer David Kirwan spearheaded the legal challenge. His ten-page submission, on behalf of 19-year-old busker Siobhan McDermott, outlined three key objections to the council’s decision: specifically that it was unlawful, that the process was unreasonable, and that the terms and conditions were “irrational, oppressive and/or disproportionate to the extent that no reasonable decision maker, properly informed, could have arrived at them”. 

Steve MunbySteve MunbyLast month he urged Mayor Anderson to scrap the policy and avoid a costly court battle, saying: “Joe Anderson has the chance to put right a wrong by voluntarily overturning these new measures, and by doing so save the city the cost of defending what is indefensible.” 

City solicitors will now contact his firm to seek an order halting the proceedings. 

Councillor Steve Munby, the Cabinet member for Living Environment and Localism, drafted the policy in consultation with council officers and city centre stakeholders such as the BID team which represents retailers who had called for the legislation. 

He denied that public pressure had played any part in the decision, despite Liverpool-born busker Jonny Walker instigating the Keep Streets Live campaign in response to the legislation. It garnered over 5,000 signatures in a petition against the rules.

"I haven't seen a busking community behind it, just one or two very loud voices."

Ged Gibbons And Jonny WalkerHop it: BID Chief Executive Ged Gibbons and busker Jonny Walker in July

Instead, Councillor Munby insisted there were still many good points in the original policy and that a panel of interested parties would now be drawn together, which will include musicians, to come up with some new, workable ideas. 

 “Time slots, designated, pre-booked pitches, and permits and insurance are not unreasonable ideas,” he told Liverpool Confidential, "and the BID team has every right to lobby on behalf of its members for legislation.

 “You can see why we would put an under 18 rule in place, but now we will be looking at that, and also what we can do to allow performers such as the eastern Europeans to return to the streets.

Cllr Munby conceded: “The policy wasn't thought through properly and we ought to have realised at the time.

“Many of the regulations as they stood, were unenforceable. We had no team in place, no officers to go around checking people. 

“I hold my hands up and admit that on this occasion, we got it wrong.” 

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