Westminster Council first tried to clamp down on certain public performances with a fee-based licensing system in April 2021.
This included limiting a performer’s space to just five metres, placing a complete ban on any sound amplification in some areas and disallowing the use of any perceived ‘dangerous props’.
Such regulations made it all but impossible for anyone but the live statues to continue performing, according to the Covent Garden Street Performers (CGSPA) association, whose members outright rejected its introduction and willingly criminalised themselves by continuing their shows as usual.
Next month, the council will discuss whether to fund further enforcement efforts to manage the crackdown, including a proposed partnership with the police.
Covent Garden’s iconic street performers fear they could be turfed out of London’s shopping hub by Christmas as part of a council plan to reduce noise
Pete Kolofsky (pictured) juggles knives and has a very impressive stunt a stunt called ‘The Sandwich of Death’ where he lies between two beds of nails and then get a member of the audience to stand on top for 10 seconds
Juggling street performers put on a show for crowds in Covent Garden
A street performer in Covent Garden (pictured). In April 2021 the Council clamped down on the public performances as it claimed it was its duty to ensure the ‘health, safety, and welfare’ of the performers and the public
One of the affected performers is Chris Thomas, 31, a circus performer from Hackney.
He told MailOnline: ‘It is absolutely shocking really isn’t it, this has been running longer than I have lived.
‘I truly believe a lot of the people that visit Covent Garden come and visit this pitch to watch street performers and for that to be removed would kill the essence of what Covent Garden is.
‘It is not something that I am prepared to live with, we are going to pursue the resistance to keep this pitch running. There is a very strong community of performers, and we are doing everything we can to keep this place alive.’
Mike Juggles, 27, is an axe juggling performer and says greater enforcement of the license will leave him completely unable to work.
He said: ‘It is a shame, we are managing ourselves very well making sure that everybody is following safety measures, not being too loud, not being rude to the audiences, we even said that we won’t perform past 9pm.’
He explained that the local street performers often raise money for charity and take care of their community.
Street performing in the renowned shopping hub is part of a tradition going back hundreds of years to 1662 when Samuel Pepys’ wrote in his diary about a marionette show featuring a puppet call Punch, who would later become one half of the fighting duo Punch and Judy.
More modern day celebrities who started their road to fame performing in Covent Garden include actor and comedian Suzy Eddie Izzard and magician Dynamo.
A street performer in Covent Garden (pictured). The Covent Garden Street Performers (CGSPA) association outright rejected the council its introduction and willingly criminalised themselves by continuing their shows as usual
Street performing had been renowned in Covent Garden since 1662 when Samuel Pepys’ wrote in his diary about a marionette show featuring a puppet call Punch, who would later become one half of the fighting duo Punch and Judy
Performers have entertained visitors to London’s shopping district for hundreds of years
Melvyn Altwarg (pictured) who has been a street performer in Covent Garden since the 1980s. He has extensive circus skills and is often credited as being ‘One of the earliest clowns to bless Covent Garden’
A street performer singing on James Street on the 21 November. The council insists it has no plans to ban buskers
Melvyn Altwarg and Peter Kolofsky, spokespeople for the CGSPA said: ‘The performers in Covent Garden are synonymous with the area and breathe life and artistic vibrancy into this special part of London, and the site is a breeding ground for talent who go on to wow audiences all over the world.
‘For the past 40 years, the CGSPA has self-regulated it’s members to ensure they are well behaved and safe, this has been extraordinarily successful, but Westminster Council are making what we do illegal.’
They continued: ‘Since 2021 the scheme across the whole of Westminster has proven vastly ineffective.
‘It was ostensibly brought in to reduce noise in the borough but we have not agreed to licences and have had very few complaints in Covent Garden.
‘In Leicester Square where performers have taken up licences the noise problem has become considerably worse – the licences in Leicester Square have actually given rise to more noise complaints, not less.’
The council, which insists it has no plans to ban busking in the borough, said in a report that previous enforcement efforts were met with fierce resistance.
‘All attempts from City Inspectors to engage with the Covent Garden Street Performers Association failed,’ the document read
‘Officers carrying out their roles attempted to act against buskers and street performers in this area. However, they were either ignored, or confrontation occurred, which resulted in Officers withdrawing.’
Now, according to the CGSPA, Westminster Council is expected to approve new plans on December 4 that will allow them to ‘prioritise more resources’ to the scheme, meaning they will be able to enlist the help of the police to crack down on the illegal performances.
Performers in Covent Garden continue to attract a significant audience
A street performer singing on James Street in front of shoppers on the 21 November
Chris Thomas, 31, (pictured) a circus performer from Hackney who is completely shocked by the proposals
Crowds look on in amazement at street performers in Covent Garden
Cllr Aicha Less, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities, Public Protection and Licensing stressed: ‘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.’
A spokesperson added that any proposed changes approved during the meeting will undergo formal consultation in the New Year.