The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Friday 3rd July 2009 - Busking in St Albans

Should it be a potential criminal offence merely to sing in public, even if no-one complains? Despite government advice, some councils still believe the answer is 'yes'.

Uncharitable souls might agree, but the government is quite sensitive on this issue. Over the years it has gone to some lengths to deny that this is one effect of the Licensing Act 2003.

As early as 18 February 2003, at the height of public controversy about entertainment licensing reform, it published 'The answer to 20 myths about public entertainment and the Licensing Bill'. Assurances included 'Spontaneous pub sing-alongs will NOT be licensable' and 'Busking will NOT be licensable':

But when the Act came into force in 2005 many councils ignored the busking advice. Their websites warned that busking required a Temporary Event Notice or Premises Licence. Manchester City Council, for example, included this statement by Councillor Richard Cowell:

'... under the Licensing Act 2003, which came into force on 24 November 2005, busking is classed as regulated entertainment. To undertake regulated entertainment, the premises concerned (which can include a street or other open space) must be licensed. This applies to all areas so includes both the city centre and Chorlton.'

Alarmed by council rebellion, on 11 November 2006 DCMS announced that it would '... make clear in legislation that the policy intention is to exclude e.g. carol singers, buskers, puppet shows for children and poetry readings from requiring a licence. This measure would most likely be delivered via regulation / and or Guidance.'
'Lifting the burden - Improving and realising community capacity', DCMS December 2006, 'Areas to be explored to achieve further reductions in administrative burdens', p23, para H.

On 28 June 2007 this intention was partially implemented with the publication of revised Licensing Guidance, secondary legislation that accompanies the Act. Busking was not explicitly cited, but the redraft strongly implied that buskers should qualify for the 'incidental music' exemption: (p31, para 3.20 and following)

As a result, some councils revised their busking advice, making clear that they do not licence busking and that noise problems, if they occur, can be regulated under the Environmental Protection Act. Bath, for example:
and Torridge:

St Albans, however, seems to think that the Licensing Act can be applied to buskers. In a statement published yesterday, 2nd July 2009, Lesley Cameron, Principal Licensing Officer for St Albans, announced the council's intention to licence the central market. The idea, at least in part, is to control buskers in that area:

'....the licence, if granted, would mean that buskers would have to apply to the markets manager for permission to perform in the market place. Currently, buskers can perform when and where they want. The aim is to control and encourage street entertainment on market days, during day-time hours only.'

Interestingly, this announcement was published on the website of Chris White, Lib Dem councillor for St Albans, member of the Local Government Association Executive, and chair of the LGA Culture, Tourism and Sport Board:

Mr White gave evidence last year on behalf of the LGA at the public inquiry into the Licensing Act by the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee. He opened with this response about live music:

'Live music is, like anything else which is an attraction in licensed premises, potentially a public order problem,' he began. 'If you start from that point of view, then it becomes clear what you must do...'


Hamish Birchall