The Camden Busking Debate

 Camden Council have imposed draconian limits on the right to busk in public places in Camden. See here the correspondence between busking campaigner Jonny Walker and Camden Labour Councillor  Lazzaro Pietragnoli.

Game Set and Match to Jonny in my view.

From: Jonathan Walker

Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014

To: Pietragnoli, Lazzaro (Councillor)

Subject: Cultural and Religious Freedom in the Royal Borough of Camden
Dear Mr Pietragnoli,
Thank you for your prompt reply to my email. I didn’t expect magnanimity to be in evidence in your reply and was not disappointed. I would also add that I am now even more convinced that you haven’t understood why your policy is so contentious. When I first received an invitation to participate in the street entertainment consultation by Camden Council I was hugely encouraged. I thought it was a good sign that Camden wanted input from the people that their policy was going to impact upon the most, but it turned out that the policy had been decided and written many months before and that the only things that changed from the consultation were the price of the licenses and the exemptions granted to recorders and flutes. For those of you who are interested my detailed consultation response is here:
The Licensing Committee and the Full Council (With one notable exception) voted for this policy along party lines, so I’m fairly certain that it wasn’t my power of persuasion that was at issue during the deputations I made so much as the decision of the Labour group to throw their collective weight behind this policy come what may.
You refer to the outcome of the consultation. Of the 152 people who responded to that consultation only 16% were in favour of all parts/majority of the policy and 55 % of respondents were against the policy. Of those who responded, 55 were residents and there was more support for the policy amongst this group although the Officer’s Report rather overstates the level of support. Of the 55 residents a mere 30% (That is to say 17 people) agreed with ‘all, or most’ of the policy with a further 39% (Or 21 people) ‘mainly’ agreed with the policy but answered no to one or more questions. So when Camden say 64% of residents back this proposal what they actually mean is 38 people out of 220,000 (Or 0.017 % of residents). Hardly an overwhelming mandate from the electorate. If we disregard the buskers responses and just take ‘others’ (Presumably visitors to Camden) the responses are rather telling. 80% of the 45 people in this category opposed the policy. When we consider that a total of 56 people complained about busking in the previous year (2012-2013) it becomes ever clearer that the policy has been designed to answer the complaints of this small group of people and has disregarded the wider cultural and social well-being of the borough, as well as the the clear indications of its own consultation.
Your comparison of busking with driving licenses is extremely telling. Though the Keep Streets Live Campaign I have developed a growing love of statistics. Here are some for you:
Road Traffic Casualties from 2012
Number of people killed in road traffic accidents in the UK: 1754
Number of people seriously injured: 23039
Number of child casualties: 17251
Busking ‘Casualties’ in Camden in 2012-2013 (Apart from common sense)
Number of people killed in busking related incidents within Camden: 0
Number of people seriously injured in busking related incidents within Camden: 0
Number of child casualties from busking: 0
Number of Camden Residents annoyed enough by buskers to complain to the council: 56
The case for licensing the handling of two tons of highly engineered metal driven at speed is unanswerably strong. In fact, given the number of deaths caused by cars it is a testament to the value we place on freedom of movement as a society that there aren’t many more restrictions on the use of cars. Anybody who has crossed the road outside Britannia Junction where five busy lanes of traffic intersect could attest that it is cars that are a daily threat to pedestrians, cyclists and the environment, and not buskers.
In the midst of your triumphalist reply to my earlier e-mail you completely failed to respond to my points about the many existing powers held by the council and the police for dealing with genuine issues resulting from busking. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, Camden have a duty to respond to complaints about noise by investigating whether a statutory nuisance is taking place, and, if it is, by serving a noise abatement notice. For each of the 56 people who complained about ‘extreme’ busking, the noise team had the power to investigate the source of the complaint, and, if appropriate, take enforcement action against the person involved. It is quite likely that many of the complaints were made about the same few buskers. Targeted enforcement against genuinely problematic busking is by far the most proportionate, fair and sensible way of dealing with busking. The penalties for breaching a Section 80 notice are very serious. Criminal record, £5000 fine, seizure of instruments. Note that these sanctions are only invoked when a person has been shown to be a statutory nuisance and do not apply in a blanket fashion to all music making, unlike your policy. This is why the Keep Streets Live Campaign strongly supports the use of existing laws against people who are causing genuine harm instead of catch-all powers that turn even unamplified singing/strumming into a criminal offence unless people get a license, pay money and are thereby vetted by the council and the police. A few high profile prosecutions using these powers, coupled with a council-backed code of conduct, would have cost much less then the policy you have introduced and sent a clear message to the few irresponsible buskers that you intended to deal with them appropriately. Your Principal Environmental Officer Helen Masterton argued that the powers under the Environmental Protection Act are not suitable for busking despite the fact that local authorities across the country use these powers for nuisance busking. What makes Camden so different? Camden’s barrister argued that buskers might give false names to the police such as ‘Mickey Mouse’ to avoid prosecution, but this in itself would be a criminal offence.
In order to establish whether or not Camden have made use of their of their existing powers I have made the following Freedom of Information request. I look forward to seeing how much use Camden made of their existing powers before the implementation of the new busking policy.

Dear Camden Borough Council,

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 how many Section 80
Noise Abatement Notices were issued in Camden from August 2012
until the present time (March 2014)?

Of these, how many were subsequently breached?

Of these, how many Section 80 Noise Abatement Notices were issued
against a person for nuisance caused by busking in the Borough of
Camden from August 2012 until the present time (March 2014)?

Of these, how many were subsequently breached?

How many prosecutions/warnings were given to persons using
loudspeakers in the street after 9pm in Camden under the Control of
Pollution Act 1974 between August 2012 until the present time?

Yours faithfully,

Jonathan Walker

Similarly the use of amplification after 9pm at night would be dealt with the using the 1974 Control of Pollution Act. So in your example of walking the streets of Pimlico with a loud-hailer at 3am in protest against the Russians, a police officer or council official would be best to gently remind you that the use of loud speakers is not permitted at this time and to kindly desist from using yours. It certainly would not be appropriate for them to seize your loudspeaker from your possession, to fine you £1000 and to tell you that, before you ever decide to protest again you first need to pay money and go through a vetting procedure involving the Metropolitan Police and the Licensing Office of your local council.

Onto Camden Town Unlimited. I am not for a minute suggesting that the three Councillors on the BID influenced them to support your busking policy. I am suggesting, instead, that there is something extremely troubling about the fact that Camden Town Unlimited have given their public backing to this policy having previously not taken a clear public position. In Liverpool it was the City BID who lobbied the Council for a draconian busking policy that we successfully opposed in 2012. Given that a BID is run ‘by business for business’ it concerns me that they would give public backing for a policy that is so politically contentious and impacts upon shared public space. Whilst many of the BID’s aims are laudable ‘Through its programme of projects CTU intends to position Camden Town as an international destination for the Creative Industries, driving footfall, average spend, improving recruitment and retention of staff and developing exciting new business clusters.’ it does not follow that businesses by virtue of paying an additional levy should have a privileged and undemocratic role in dictating public policy that affects the wider civic and social sphere. Camden is still a culturally and socially diverse part of London, indeed this is part of its unique charm and vibrancy. The perceived needs of ‘business’ or the personal preferences of certain residents should not take precedence over the common good. Alongside many others I am concerned that Camden’s ability to sustain cultural and social diversity is under threat as never before. The interests of high commerce and developers are not necessarily always aligned with those of the common good and I am concerned that the two are often seen as being one and the same. Indeed its vibrant grassroots cultural offering is an intrinsic part of Camden’s appeal and, on its own terms, the BID and the ruling Labour Group have put that under threat in a way that could negatively impact upon the interests of businesses within Camden.


As a ruling group within a local authority you have a tremendous amount of power. You have the power to lead collaboratively and in a way that encourages participation and democratic engagement. You also have the power to impose decisions and use the tremendous power and resources entrusted in a public body to crush rather than create. As a campaigning organisation staffed entirely by volunteers (including me) we have nothing like the resources at your disposal. Instead we have only our good will and the force of our arguments. Like you, we genuinely care about the future well-being of Camden. We care about the use of public space and its capacity to allow for spontaneity and urban community alongside the more prosaic aspects of daily life. An informal busking cultural is one important piece of social glue that helps hold a place like Camden together. If you lose that, you might not get it back again. Once again I repeat, we want to work alongside you to develop a policy that addresses the very real concerns of residents without criminalising grassroots culture. We will continue our challenge in the Court of Appeal but will be glad to work with you if the invitation is forthcoming.

 I wish for all of you an enjoyable weekend,

 Kind regards,

Jonny Walker

Founding Director of Keep Streets Live Campaign

From: "Pietragnoli, Lazzaro (Councillor)"

Date: 27 March 2014

To: "''"

Subject: Re: Cultural and Religious Freedom in the Royal Borough of Camden

Dear Mr Walker,

I do not share our criticism about the new entertainment policy, but I perfectly understand your frustration.

You have tried to stop this policy both before and after its approval, with the same exact arguments that you repeat in your letter, and you failed.

You failed to organise a big negative response to the public consultation.

You failed to persuade Councillors with your deputations at the different meetings (Committee, Cabinet, Council) that approved the policy.

You failed to challenge the new policy in Court.

And, last but not least, you are now failing in your attempt to attack the local Labour Councillors for the leaflet we delivered to residents.

Despite the organised campaign asking people to write to us (see for instance the blog by Hamish Birchall on, I’ve only received 3 (three!) e-mails of complains, all using your arguments (sometimes even verbatim!). And none of them was from a resident in the Borough.

You are the first resident of Camden to contact me AGAINST this issue since we delivered that leaflet (and -can I say it?- you do not live in, or close to, an area interested by “extreme busking”!)

On the contrary, I keep meeting local residents and business owners that express their support for what we did.

You don’t need to see any big conspiracy theory behind Simon Pitkeathley’s statement: businesses in Camden are supportive of the policy! And consequently their organisation expressed the support (and you should appreciate they did it at the end of a legal challenge between the Copuncil and your organisation, in order not to interfere with the legal process)

As for the allegation that the three Councillors members of the board where able to steer the position of CTU, it is such a ridiculous thing! You must have a great opinion of myself (and Theo and Chris) if you really think that three local politicians are able to force businesses to approve something that is against their own interest…

Despite your misleading campaign, local residents and businesses understand that the new policy is not a “criminalisation” – do you consider a criminalisation” asking people to have a licence when they drive their car? The maximum punishment can be a prison sentence: isn’t this an attack on the freedom of movement?!

And what about the “draconian” ban on smoking in pubs? Does it mean that is a criminal offence to smoke? Or that you will be fined for entering a pub with a pack of cigarettes in your pocket?

People and businesses understand that the new policy is not a brutal limitation of your freedom of expression – what would you think will happen if tomorrow at 3 in the night I would walk the streets of Pimlico, with my megaphone in one hand, shouting messages of protest against the Russian aggression against Ukraine?

The Police would stop me -and rightly!

Of course, it would be different f I organise a silent candlelight vigil outside the Russian Embassy.

So, yes, there are different degrees of freedom of expression, as my individual rights cannot be in contrast with other people’s rights, and should be exert in a balanced way!

Since we had this conversation several times before, it seems to me that you do not listen to other people’s arguments, being them the local residents, the Councillors, or even Mrs Justice Patterson!, and carry on “singing your tune” (on criminalisation and freedom of expression) that has nothing to do with the aim and the contents of our new Street Entertainment Policy.

Best regards

Lazzaro Pietragnoli



Councillor Lazzaro Pietragnoli

Camden Town with Primrose Hill ward

Mob. 07584407453

From: Jonathan Walker []
Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2014 12:40 AM
To: Pietragnoli, Lazzaro (Councillor) and other Camden Councillors
Dear elected members of Camden Borough Council (Particularly those of you who voted in favour of the busking law), Simon Pitkeathley of Camden Town Unlimited and Penny Mills of the Metropolitan Police,

 On Monday, in the company of around forty other people, I played my acoustic guitar, sang songs and made a joyful sound on a cheap kazoo in the shared public spaces of Camden Town as part of a protest against Camden’s contentious new busking laws which sees all ‘unlicensed’ performances of live music in Camden’s streets cast as a CRIMINAL offences, punishable by fines up to £1000, the seizure of instruments and their sale to pay the fine if unpaid after 28 days.  The Old Bill were strangely absent from our musical protest, which even included some Spanish tourists dancing to the sound of kazoos in a rousing rendition of Blake’s magnificent surrealist opus ‘Jerusalem’. Later on that evening, when the crowds had long since dispersed, I took out my guitar once more on the streets of Camden and accompanied myself on the kazoo in an extremely moving rendition (to me at least) of ‘Amazing Grace’. The appreciative smiles of the passersby only served to sadden me because I realised most of them had no idea of the grave threat that now hangs over the future of Camden’s vibrant and diverse street culture scene.


Writing as a Labour Party member, I was shocked and saddened to hear of an election leaflet recently placed into circulation by the ruling Labour Group in Camden which grandiosely (not to say also erroneously) proclaimed to have effected ‘an end to sleepless nights in Camden’ on account of the High Court’s recent decision to rule the new street entertainment policy as lawful. In 2012-2013 it stated that there was a tenfold increase in the number of complaints made about busking in the Borough of Camden compared to the year before. Leaving aside the once-in-a-generation event of the London Olympics in 2012, this ‘ten fold’ increase saw busking complaints rise from 0.2 % of the total complaints about noise in the Borough to just over 2% of total noise complaints in the borough (And this in exceptional and unrepeatable circumstances). 98% of noise complaints in Camden did not relate to busking and yet, by some strange alchemy election leaflets have appeared claiming to have eliminated ‘sleepless nights’ in Camden because of the unprecedented clamp down upon street culture on the part of the ruling Labour Group. Have you eliminated noise from traffic, road works, noisy neighbours, dogs barking, licensed venues, shops blaring out loud music? Of course not, yet these are the sources of around 98% of noise complaints in Camden. You will forgive me, and many others, for remaining distinctly unimpressed at this sleight of the statistical hand and brazen attempt to play crude electoral politics with an unprecedented assault upon cultural freedoms in Camden.

I’m also extremely concerned that Camden Town Unlimited, having remained strangely silent on the busking initiative throughout the controversy leading up to the High Court challenge, chose the aftermath of that decision to issue a public statement welcoming the new policy uncritically, with Simon Pitkeathley the Chief Executive saying,

“We welcome this initiative. Busking has always been a part of Camden Town and this will allow it to continue in a way that works for businesses and residents alike”
How will introducing the second most restrictive busking law in modern UK history serve Camden Town Unlimited’s stated aim of, “Positioning Camden Town a global centre for Creative Industries”? What kind of message do you think welcoming this policy sends to the creative and musical communities of Camden? How exactly will the threat of a criminal record, and instrument confiscations “allow” busking to continue? Which residents and businesses is Simon Pitkeathley speaking on behalf of? Is it the policy of Camden Town Unlimited to support the criminalisation of grassroots culture whilst at the same time building its identity on Camden’s deserved international reputation as a culture-led economy? I am also concerned that three elected politicians who strongly supported the new busking law (Councillors Blackwell, Naylor and Pietragnoli) sit on the board of this organization as does Penny Mills, the Chief Inspector of Police whose completely unsubstantiated claim that busking causes ‘opportunities for organized criminal networks’ to congregate in Camden Town was a centerpiece of the evidential case for the new legislation. With a visitor and cultural economy strongly based upon Camden’s reputation as a prime destination for live music and the arts, why does Camden Town Unlimited adopt a position of antagonism towards the grassroots cultural communities that directly contribute towards its colour and vibrancy? With a tag line like ‘Run By Business for Business’ those who value Camden’s ability to sustain cultural diversity are entitled to ask serious questions about precisely whose interests Camden Town Unlimited, and the elected members that sit on its board, are serving.
In an hysterical rhetorical whirlpool which can see prospective parliamentary Labour candidates compare buskers in Council Meetings to oligarchical press barons in their resistance to the ‘light touch’ regulation of the state, I admit it can be hard to maintain a sense of proportion and perspective. Nonetheless, I submit to you, that, the judgment of Mrs Justice Patterson notwithstanding, your street entertainment policy is an unwarranted intrusion into the vibrant and diverse cultural life of the Borough of Camden. In your policy, you grant blanket exemptions for music that is part of religious services or processions, which is a welcome recognition of the importance of music as an expression of people’s most deeply held beliefs. Yet we live in an age where many people don’t hold formal religious beliefs. For many, music itself is an expression of their desire to be understood and to understand. Music making is a communal activity with a psychological, social and cultural dimension which is just as important for non-believers as religious services are to followers of organised religion. Yet Camden protects religious freedoms and completely disregards (and hugely undervalues) cultural freedoms which are just as important. In the recent High Court hearing Camden’s Barrister argued that the Article 10 rights of buskers were engaged at a ‘low level’ implying that there was something trivial about freedom of expression in relation to playing music on the streets. Whilst Mrs Justice Patterson seemingly agreed with Camden’s assessment, many found her judgment highly troubling in its implications,

Robin Bynoe, a flautist, lawyer and consultant with M Law LLP commented:

‘What an extraordinary idea that musical performance, because it is “not akin to political speech”, is apparently of much less significance in the great scheme of things and therefore protected by Article 10 only “at a low level”. This seems to reflect nothing more than the cultural priorities of the judge; and I would disagree. Buskers do more to enhance the even flow of outdoor social life than political speakers (who unlike buskers are better kept indoors; even the good ones). It is no accident that after six hundred and thirty eight years we still celebrate the Pied Piper of Hamlin but the Town Clerk is forgotten.’

As you will be aware, the Keep Streets Live Campaign profoundly disagreed with the judgment of the High Court and has sought leave to appeal from the Court of Appeal. We asked Camden to delay the implementation of their policy pending the outcome of the legal process but they declined which leaves us in a position where the situation on the ground for would be buskers is highly uncertain and problematic. We don’t believe that music-makers should face criminal sanctions on account of the instrument they are playing or whether they hold the correct ‘license’. Therefore we have publicly advised all buskers and musicians NOT to sign up to Camden’s scheme, but to join us in protesting against it.

Meanwhile we have been watching the HS2 debate with some interest. The disruption to Camden that would be caused by this infrastructure project would dwarf that of even the most ‘extreme’ unlicensed busker and all who care about the well-being of Camden are united in their opposition to these plans in their current form. Decisions have been made by a central authority and imposed upon an area with inadequate consultation and participation amongst the people it affects the most. When Sarah Hayward warned HS2 not to impose a design for Euston Station without giving local authorities a say and expressed disappointment that HS2 were not going to be involved in the working group set up to influence policy, the Keep Streets Live Campaign had every sympathy with her plight, and yet Camden fail to see that this is exactly what they themselves have done with their buskers. Despite our frequent entreaties to the Council to work with us in a collaborative approach as we are doing in Liverpool to design a policy based upon consent and mutuality they have seen fit to impose a regime upon buskers which has no support from any bodies that represent musicians and the wider cultural community, and in fact is backed by only 55 residents who answered the consultation, a consultation where the majority of the 155 people who answered (55%) were actually against the policy Camden have introduced.

Camden Council have held the entire busking community responsible for the irresponsible actions of a small minority whose behaviour was already illegal under existing powers. It is also unclear whether they have exercised the full extent of their existing powers to deal with genuine noise nuisance caused by busking. Members concerned about the spiralling cost of the street entertainment policy would do well to ask Helen Masterton your principal Environmental Health Officer how many noise abatement notices Camden issued against buskers in the time leading up to the introduction of this policy particularly given that is likely that many complaints about noise related to the same buskers who could have been dealt with using a noise abatement notice? Ms Masterton presented evidence in the High Court suggesting that the Environmental Protection Act 1990 was inadequate for the management of noise caused from busking, despite the fact that this act allows pre-emptive noise abatement notices to be served where noise nuisance is believed to be likely, as well as making provision for the seizure of musical instruments IF a statutory nuisance has been demonstrated. The Environmental Protection Act is used by local authorities across the UK to deal with noise complaints about busking with well-publicized noise abatement notices have been issued to performers in Oxford and Cardiff where the ensuing publicity leaves performers in no doubt that councils have the powers they need to respond to noise complaints. In addition, the Control of Pollution Act 1974 makes it an offence to use loudspeakers in the street after 9pm. Given that Camden’s main concern is the use of amplifiers late in the evening it must be asked why they have not been using their existing powers to manage ‘extreme’ busking? Why does Camden feel the need to license unamplified singing by claiming, as Tony Hawke’s Witness Statement maintained that the human voice box itself is a form of amplification? Whilst I understand that the sweeping pre-emptive powers of Camden’s busking law might be, on paper, more convenient than the judicious use of existing laws, that is in no way to imply that they are justified or desirable.

The Keep Streets Live Campaign has a genuine desire to work alongside the local authority to design a policy that enables the council to take appropriate action against those individuals that cause genuine issues whilst enabling a spontaneous and flourishing street culture scene to continue. In Liverpool we are actually working alongside the Council, Merseyside Police and the City BID to design and implement a policy that has the consent and input of all whom it affects. We strongly support the right (indeed the responsibility) of Councils to take enforcement action against individuals who cause genuine issues. However we will not, and cannot support a catch-all policy that pre-emptively criminalises anybody who wishes to share their music in the public spaces of Camden without subjecting themselves to a highly intrusive and bureaucratic process of licensing that discriminates wholesale against entire classes of instruments as well as individuals without the means to pay for such a license.

Camden Council, the message from the Keep Streets Live Campaign is simple:

Camden’s vibrant and diverse street culture scene is one of the things that gives it its unique zest and vitality. It needs to preserved and cherished and not stamped out. We want to work with you to, so, please, stop working against us! Until you take up our offer of collaboration we will continue our principled and steadfast opposition to your damaging and coercive busking law,


With kind regards,

Jonny Walker

Founding Director of the Keep Streets Live Campaign

Online fundraiser for the on-going legal challenge:

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