The Shame of Camden

Concern about licensing of busking in Camden continues. Here is a post I wrote last year. 

I am pleased to see that the Musicians Union has strongly condemned the actions of Camden Council  who have voted to introduce punitive measures against buskers in the borough from early 2014.This means that buskers will have to pay for licences in order to busk and will risk large fines and having their instruments confiscated if they fail to adhere to the requirements of the policy.

Dave Webster, MU National Organiser for Live Performance, said:

 “It is a real shame that just a year after the Live Music Act was brought in to encourage the performance of live music that Camden Council has decided to bring in these draconian measures against busking.

“Live music is an integral part of London’s identity and the onerous and potentially expensive requirements that Camden is placing on buskers will threaten the borough’s vibrant atmosphere. The references to ‘noise’ and ‘nuisance’ in Camden’s policy are particularly unhelpful and do not reflect the positive cultural contribution made by buskers to London life.  The borough has given in to complaints made by a small group of residents who live on and around Camden High Street, which is inevitably a loud place to live irrespective of busking.

 “We urge Camden Council to reconsider this policy and the MU would be happy to work with them to establish a code of best practice for busking, as we did in places like Liverpool.”

Camden has explicitly justified the busking licence on the grounds of residents’ rights to ‘peaceful’ enjoyment of their homes – in other words, Article 8 ECHR.  Nowhere has it considered Article 10 rights for music makers.

Jonny Walker, who has led buskers campaigns against local licensing has had detailed legal advice from David Wolfe QC to the effect that Camden’s policy can be challenged on a number of grounds.  A letter before action from Leigh Day has now been delivered.

Jonny is now seeking a fighting fund from musicians and the music industry.

The Ham and High report of his campaign, supported by Billy Bragg, Bill Bailey and Mark Thomas, is here:

Where is the evidence of a sustained and increasing nuisance from busking?  None has been produced so far. Camden is proposing to ban street music at any time, unamplified or amplified, except through a special busking licence. Breach carries a fine of up to £1000.Their new busking licence will apply a blanket ban on the playing of any wind or percussion instrument on the street at any time

The council believes it can apply the busking licence wherever live music is exempted from a licence within the Licensing Act 2003 (LA2003). The Live Music Act 2012 (LMA), which amended the LA2003, is not  mentioned.

The implication must be that the council believes even the unamplified performances exempted under LMA para 3(5) come within its busking licence remit.

There is no getting away from the fact that this approach runs completely counter to the arguments made duringt the LMA debates, that there are certain categories of music-making for which a pre-emptive licensing regime is neither necessary nor proportionate, because the potential for nuisance is low and noise nuisance legislation adequate to address any nuisance that might arise.

I hope you will support Jonny’s campaign and ensure that busking cannot be controlled in this draconian way.



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