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When does 'graffiti' become 'street art'? Tower Hamlets Council draws up guidelines

PUBLISHED: 14:18 01 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:28 01 March 2019

Mural in Brick Lane... council decides if it's graffiti or genuine street art. Picture: LBTH

Mural in Brick Lane... council decides if it's graffiti or genuine street art. Picture: LBTH

LBTH

A new policy to decide what's 'graffiti' and what's 'street art' has been agreed by Tower Hamlets Council to speed up removing unsightly daubings—while protecting renowned mural art.

Action to wipe out ugly street daubing on the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch. Picture: LBTHAction to wipe out ugly street daubing on the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch. Picture: LBTH

A new policy to decide what’s ‘graffiti’ and what’s ‘street art’ has been agreed by Tower Hamlets Council to speed up removing unsightly daubings—while protecting renowned mural art.

The aim is to balance the impact of unsightly ‘tagging’ graffiti while maintaining a vibrant street art public environment that attracts visitors to east London.

The strategy gets the green light in the week that the council’s regular ‘Big Clean Up’ campaign begins its sixth run to tidy up the East End.

“We recognise some street art can add character to an area,” mayor John Biggs said. “This strikes the right balance between removing a blight and recognising there is a place for legitimate street art.”

Mayor Biggs joins in one of his 'big clean- up' operations with a jetspray at Bethnal Green's Meath Gardens. Picture: LBTHMayor Biggs joins in one of his 'big clean- up' operations with a jetspray at Bethnal Green's Meath Gardens. Picture: LBTH

His teams remove offensive graffiti within 24 hours and non-offensive within five working days, under the current arrangements.

This will continue, but now the value and popularity of street art will be allowed.

The council agreed its annual budget last week to spend £400,000 to tackle graffiti. Cleaning up costs £500,000 a year including tackling hotspots and problems areas.

The authority is also hoping to reach out to youngsters through schools and youth groups in areas where graffiti is a problem.

Mayor Biggs: Graffiti? Not on my watch! Picture: LBTHMayor Biggs: Graffiti? Not on my watch! Picture: LBTH

But community groups that encourage mural painting are also being approached to help identify “valued street art” and advise on measures to protect it.

Any decision to protect the work rather than wipe it clean is being based on whether it is considered detrimental to the environment. The criteria for what makes it ‘street art’ includes taste, decency and community feelings.

The council is now identifying graffiti as a priority on property owned by businesses, housing associations, private landlords, Network Rail and TfL, where the graffiti is having “a negative impact” on a neighbourhood.

The 2003 Antisocial Behaviour Act gives local authorities powers to serve ‘graffiti removal’ notices on organisations responsible for the surface of a building where graffiti has appeared.

These include organisations responsible for street utilities such as bus shelters, road signs, phone boxes and bike racks.

The notice gives a minimum 28 days for graffiti to be wiped clean, before the authority then removes it themselves and recover the costs from the owners.

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