Street culture in Camden is under imminent and real threat. Under plans being drawn up by Camden Council, Street Performers face a fine of up to £1000 for the ‘crime’ of busking without a license. Council officers will have the power to seize musical instruments and other equipment, the tools of a busker’s trade, and to sell them if the fine is not paid within 28 days. ASAP has set up a petition calling on the council to rethink their plans, you can sign it here.
They are currently conducting a public consultation on their proposals to introduce a draconian licensing scheme for busking. If this scheme is introduced, it will be one of the most restrictive busking policies in the entire United Kingdom. Buskers will have to pay an annual fee of up to £123 to perform on the streets. A presumption against the use of wind instruments (including flutes and recorders), as well as any form of percussion (No bongoes or bins) or amplification (regardless of volume level) will apply.
The ‘right’ to seize instruments and equipment will also extend to private contractors working for Camden and is NOT dependant on a public nuisance having been demonstrated. Under this policy, busking without a license is itself criminalised. This could lead to a situation where people’s most prized possessions are taken from them by force and sold for no other reason than strumming a guitar in the street. This is not an acceptable use of state power or public resources.
These proposed regulations will have the effect of making it almost impossible to busk in Camden as well as settting a damaging precedent for other parts of the country. They are an assault on the freedom for people to use shared public spaces for grassroots expressions of art and culture and the ability of musicians to share their art with the public. The restrictions are particularly unnecessary in light of the fact that there are many statutory powers available to the council to deal with genuine episodes of nuisance without invoking new laws (Such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993). At a time when local authorities are being forced to make large cuts in spending, it is, at best, unfortunate, that Camden are proposing to spend scarce public resources on a policy like this when there are so many other issues of pressing concern relating to poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol dependency, the closure of essential services for social care and genuine crimes againt the person.
My name is Jonny Walker. I am a professional street performer, singer songwriter and the Founding Director of the Association of Street Artists and Performers (ASAP!) a body that exists to campaign against policies that threaten street culture and to promote the idea that our shared public spaces belong to all of us and should be protected for the common good. We campaigned againt a busking law in Liverpool that would have seen buskers prosecuted for ‘tresspassing’ in a public space and facing other stringent limits on their freedom to perfrom, and we won. We asked York City Council to review their busking permit scheme because of the many restrictions it imposed on street artists, and they listened and made changes involving street artists and performers in that process. Now we are asking the same of Camden Council.
Camden is one of the most dynamic and culturally diverse areas in London. It hosts many iconic music venues and is home to MTV studios and many record labels. It is famous worldwide as a vibrant centre for the arts and live music, as well as for its famous markets and nightlife. The council’s proposals to introduce draconian busking regulations threaten to damage Camden’s reputation as a local authority that nurtures and supports the arts as well as to damage the enjoyment of thousands of people, both visitors and residents, who enjoy the dynamic street culture scene in this iconic London Borough. The Council’s plans in their current form lack imagination and stifle creativity. At best they represent a heavy-handed response to complaints about noise and the use of a whopping great sledge hammer to crack a very small nut, at worst, they are a damaging attempt to restrict freedoms attached to the use of public space at a time of austerity and the closure of many live venues.
As a local authority that values its proud artistic and musical heritage, Camden should abandon its plans to license busking, and instead consult with street performers, residents, professional bodies like the Musician’s Union and Equity, as well as educational establishments like the London College of Music to come up with a supportive policy framework for busking that builds and improves upon Camden’s already vibrant street culture scene, deals proportionately with the issues that arise from busking from time to time, and, in-so-doing, benefits the well being of the entire borough and the city beyond it.
The consultation runs until October 4th. People who are concerned about Camden’s plans can fill in the on-line consultation here.
Please also sign the petition asking on Camden to think again.
And join the facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/keepstreetslivecamden/
Keep Streets Live!