Camden Labour councillors are using busking licence as a vote-winner for local elections in May

The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Circular

Friday 14th March 2014 - Camden Labour councillors are using a court ruling and the new
borough-wide busking licence as a vote-winner for local elections in May

Camden's busking licences will come into effect on 24th March. The
scheme makes it a potential criminal offence to sing in the street or
open public spaces, even unamplified and unaccompanied. Guardian
coverage 11 March here:

The regime cuts across the exemption within the Live Music Act 2012 for
unamplified live music performance, 8am-11pm, to audiences of up to 200.
This historic deregulation would not have been approved by Government if
the potential for nuisance or public safety issues was not already
addressed by separate legislation.

But would-be street singers in Camden must now pay a £19 fee for a
12-month authorisation. A £47 application must be made for any use of
wind instruments (except flutes and recorders), amplification,
percussion or to have more than two performers. However, this
application outcome will be uncertain. Councillors have the power to
object on behalf of residents. All applicants must give their name and
address, and will be assessed as a 'fit and proper person'. Max penalty
for unlicensed performance: £1000 fine and seizure of instruments.

Earlier this week, residents of Camden Town and Primrose Hill received a
letter about the recent busking court judgment from Labour councillors
Pat Callaghan, Richard Cotton and Lazzaro Pietragnoli:

'We are really pleased to let you know that sleepless nights should soon
become a thing of the past,' they coo.

'Plans to find a balance between Camden's vibrant street-life, and the
needs for us all to get a little peace and quiet, were given the
go-ahead this week after a judge ruled that Camden Labour's solution to
the problem "balanced fostering busking-activity across the borough"
with "the requirements of its residents and the well-being of Camden"'.

'Our borough is a vibrant place, that's what makes it such a special
[place] to live and visit. The three of us are committed to maintaining
that vibrancy, and ensuring that people continue to flock to our area.
First and foremost, however, our borough needs to work for the people,
like us all, that live here. That's why when we saw a ten-fold increase
about noise from some buskers disturbing people in their homes, we acted.'

Blimey - a ten-fold increase. But wait a minute, that was from about
0.2% to 2% of total annual noise complaints in 2012/13, probably due in
part to increased post-Olympic tourism. Many complaints were made by
the same people. The councillors don't mention this.

'To make sure we got the best solution for everyone, we consulted with
residents, businesses and visitors on what they wanted,' they add.

How many responded? They don't say. The answer is 152, and the majority
(55%) were against the busking licence, either in principle or
completely. The population of Camden is about 250,000.

The letter continues: 'From 24th March this year, we will be introducing
busking licences, for more details of these have a look at our website.
We want to stress that this is not a ban on busking but will hopefully
strike a balance between the rights of residents to a quiet life and
buskers wishing to perform in public places. The policy will restrict
the use of amplified equipment, particularly close to residential areas,
late into the evening.'

In fact, the use of loudspeakers in the street between 9pm and 8am has
been restricted since the Control of Pollution Act 1974 - a fact even
the judge acknowledged in the buskers' recent judicial review.

All local authorities have a wide range of powers to tackle noise
nuisance, particularly the Environmental Protection Act 1990 which
covers the use of musical instruments and amplification (as
'equipment'). Cities like Oxford, just as popular as Camden with
tourists and buskers, have used this legislation recently against
problem buskers:

The Camden Labour councillors don't mention this either, perhaps because
they uncritically accepted the view of Camden's Culture and Environment
Team that this legislation is ineffective against buskers, somewhat
contradicted by the actions of Oxford City Council and others.

The councillors' letter concludes: 'We'd really love to hear your
thoughts you have on this. Just drop us an email.'

Which you can do here:

Link to Camden's busking licence announcement:

Here is a link to more info on the buskers' campaign, led by a
remarkable musician Jonny Walker:


Hamish Birchall