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New religions don't usually start in a blaze of national publicity
by Hamish Birchall - 29th March 2014

New religions don't usually start in a blaze of national publicity.

*But thanks to Camden's controversial new busking licence, which got High Court approval on 11 March, the Church of the Holy Kazoo has made a dramatic entrance:

Daily Star, 28 March: http://dly.st/1mAmt3B
Metro, 27 March: http://bit.ly/P8GLmw
Camden New Journal (CNJ), 27 March: http://bit.ly/1pCRRLP

Campaigner Jonny Walker came up with the idea. He was supported by comedians Mark Thomas and Ben Van Der Velde, spreading the word to the Camden public and drawing attention to the exemption within Camden's
busking regime for music 'performed as an incident of a religious meeting, procession or service.'

Mark Thomas told the CNJ: 'Talking with us to find the best code of practice would have been the way forward. Instead, we have this stupid law. Labour particularly has a habit of passing laws when they are not needed. This is not a good enough reason for a law. Camden is the London borough of music. Why would they do this, unless they want to change that? It could be they are trying to change the tone of the borough, and want to gentrify it.'

According to the CNJ, despite calls by Holy Kazoo buskers on the day to the police, councillors and council leader Sarah Hayward, none responded.

It was left to Camden licensing committee chair Maryam Eslamdoust to comment: 'I am pleased with the judgment handed down by the High Court. We had to adopt this regulation to address ongoing nuisance suffered by residents and to prevent public spaces from being monopolised. The court has affirmed that regulation is not prohibition and we look forward to a responsible busking scene living alongside our residents.'

But it is now clear that Camden did not have to invoke the busking licence regime, which makes even unamplified unaccompanied singing on the street a potential criminal offence. Many other councils openly advertise the fact that they use existing nuisance legislation against buskers if they are too loud - and in areas that are just as popular
with tourists and buskers, including Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and others.

Camden's reasons for rejecting this solution seem to have been fed to councillors by council officers. They were articulated by, among others, Camden Labour councillor Theo Blackwell in his blog last October: 'Powers available to the authority are not adequate - they would be costly, time-consuming, ineffective or very draconian (are you
suggesting we ASBO or injunct buskers?).'

Essentially the same arguments were put to the High Court by Camden and uncritically accepted by the judge. Indeed, her judgment reads as if she simply paraphrased or quoted from the statement of one Camden officer, including the suggestion that buskers when challenged often give false names like 'Mickey Mouse'. For some reason the judge didn't mention that giving a false name can amount to obstruction, an arrestable offence in itself.

More disturbing, evidence I have seen suggests that Camden officers responding to busking complaints did not set out the statutory powers they have to control noise nuisance, including noise abatement notices under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA). If this is the case,
it is hardly surprising that complainants and councillors formed the impression that without a busking licence the council was powerless to act.

As for the cost of enforcing nuisance legislation, Camden's costs to date for developing the busking licence policy and defending it in the Courts must now exceed £50,000. That is more than enough to have pursued the small number of problem buskers with noise abatement notices, and, if necessary, prosecuted.