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Camden busking licence under fire from Mayor and professional musicians
by Hamish Birchall - 12th April 2014

Camden Labour group's controversial busking law came under fire last week from both the Mayor of London and the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM).

The regulations, which came into effect across the borough on 24th March, mean that even unamplified and unaccompanied live music performed on the street is a now potential criminal offence. The maximum penalty is a £1000 fine, seizure of instruments or equipment and their sale to recover the fine if it is not paid. The licence for solo or duo unamplified performance without percussion or wind instruments (except flute or recorder) is £19 a year. But the application for use of amplification, wind or percussion, or more than two performers, costs £47 - and the outcome is uncertain. Councillors can object on behalf of residents.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the ISM, said: 'This is an extreme response by Camden Council to a matter that should have been resolved differently. With the success of the Live Music Act, we had hoped this sort of draconian regulation was a thing of the past. Camden's musicians have our full support and we urge Camden Council to retract their decision immediately.'

In a separate development, on 8th April Mayor of London Boris Johnson criticised the council during the launch of #BackBusking, a new campaign by the Greater London Authority to make London 'the most busker friendly city in the world'. ['Boris Johnson backs Camden buskers opposed to controversial council licensing laws', Hampstead & Highgate Express, 9th April 2014,http://bit.ly/1lSGy2k ]

Asked by the Hampstead & Highgate Express for comment on Camden's busking policy, Mr Johnson said: 'Councils do have a duty to try to protect their residents from noise and nuisance so there's got to be give and take. Some councils are a little more rigid than we think perhaps they should be. All we are saying is give peace a chance. What we want to do is see if we can bring people together and sort out any problems.'

But the response from Camden suggests they are hunkering down. Councillor Abdul Hai, Camden's cabinet member for community safety, told the Ham & High:

'In line with the mayor's own London Plan, consultation allowed residents, businesses and street entertainers to become actively engaged in shaping their local areas. Camden has sought to strike a balance between the rights of performers to use public spaces and the right of
residents to a quality of life free from noise nuisance.'

The so-called consultation garnered 152 responses. The borough's population is about a quarter of a million. 55 of the respondents were Camden residents, of which 35 apparently backed the busking regime. Overall, the majority of respondents (55%), including businesses and visitors, were against it.

The council's position is further undermined by the revelation, also last week, that Camden spent £40,000 on barristers defending the busking regime at the recent judicial review brought by the Keep Streets Live group led by Jonny Walker: www.keepstreetslive.com . Legal costs are likely to rise as the buskers have lodged an appeal.

Camden's total busking policy costs currently stand at about £70,000. This is much more than it would have cost to implement conventional noise nuisance investigation and enforcement, including prosecutions,
against the small number of problem buskers in 2012/13 that led to the busking licence decision. Indeed, Camden's 5-year licence fee cost-recovery model has gone out of the window.

And how will Camden evaluate the success or otherwise of the busking licence? The answer is they can't.

Montlhy busking noise complaints were already declining from a peak of about 24 in July 2013 to 4 in November that year before the busking licence vote was carried by Labour. A significant number of complaints were made by the same people. Privately, council officers had already considered the Olympics as a possible cause of the spike in complaints that began around the 2012 Olympics. But neither this nor the recent decline in complaints was debated at the crucial 11 November council vote.

Any future claim by Camden that a decline in busking noise complaints is because of their new licence can be safely dismissed as unproven.