Birmingham to ban microphones in the city centre

If this PSPO goes though it will be a crime to protest with megaphones in Birmingham city centre.

It will also be a crime to play violin, acoustic guitar or flute with amplification.

That is, the city centre – including the law courts, police station, and council house – will be an area within which amplification of all kinds is prohibited.

The council says it has been ‘inundated’ with complaints about noise: I would like to know how many complaints they have received.

What’s more likely is that such measures represent the official view that any spontaneous expressions of life in public are messy and questionable. (There is the effect of this measure that the council and other key institutions are protecting themselves from any ‘noise’ from protests critical of their activities).

The only legitimate public activities, it seems, are getting from A to B, and shopping. Anything else is banned or licensed.

We start to reach the point where the only noise allowed in public space is official noise – annoying announcements at train stations, or warnings about CCTV and so on – just as the only signs on lampposts are messages from the police warning you about people stealing your mobile phone.

That is, it’s not public space, but official space.

Give me protesters or musicians any day, even if they are loud or bad, or I don’t agree. This isn’t noise nuisance – this is the sound of the city, of people expressing themselves, communicating with others, performing for others.



Our submission Birmingham City Council’s consultation is below:

This PSPO presents a grievous threat to the public liberties of the people of Birmingham. It will, in effect, prevent political protests and rallies, since speakers will be unable to make themselves heard (especially over traffic noise and the noise of building works). It will also prevent busking with the very large number of instruments that cannot be heard over background urban noise, or with electronic instruments.

This restriction is quite unnecessary. You received 153 complaints last year about buskers and street speakers, in a city of a million people. How many more people used amplification, or attended rallies or listened to musicians where amplification was used?

Public speaking and busking are the ways in which the city streets are used by members of the public – for association, entertainment, appealing to others. Do you want the City of Birmingham to be only for getting from A to B, or going shopping? Or perhaps you wish only council events and official announcements to be the only ones allowed amplification?

This restriction on music and protest goes against Birmingham’s tradition of civic spirit and lively public culture. It would at a stroke transform the nature of the city, and prevent people from using public space for the purpose of communication or entertainment.

We most strongly urge you to not take this step.