Camden New Journal: Buskers set up new ‘religion’

Camden New Journal: Buskers set up new ‘religion’

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Published by Pavan Amara on 27th March 2014 in the Camden New Journal.

BUSKERS in Camden Town say their “religious freedoms” are being threatened by the Town Hall after forming a new religion that deifies “the humble kazoo”.

The move comes after the buskers lost a High Court battle over Camden Council’s new licensing policy for street performers.

The rules, which came into force on Monday, demand they have licences, ban amplified music and set a 9pm curfew for performances.

Signs have gone up in Camden Town warning buskers they need licences.

Instruments can be confiscated under the new rules, which the Town Hall says it introduced to protect residents from disturbance.

In the latest protest, musician campaigners say the council cannot ban their “religion”, which does not have a name yet but centres around music and instruments.

On Monday, around a dozen buskers performed close to Camden Town underground station without a licence. They then called police, the council’s noise service, Town Hall leader Councillor Sarah Hayward and community safety chief Councillor Abdul Hai to alert them to the performance. They said that an attempt to remove them would be a threat to their religious rights.

Neither police nor the council responded, and both councillors failed to answer their phones.

Busker Jonny Walker told a crowd of onlookers outside the HSBC bank branch in Camden High Street: “We are forming a religion. You do not have to drop out of your own religion to join. We are welcoming everyone from atheists to Christians, to Muslims and Jews, Hindus and every other belief you may already be a part of.

“We are very open. But we are a religion that respects music and our right to perform in the borough of Camden with freedom. We have hymns, and we believe in the holy triad of kazoos. We want to practise our religion in peace.”

Comedian Mark Thomas, who is campaigning for buskers’ rights, said “out of all the things the council could have done, they chose to criminalise busking without a licence”.

He added: “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 that they are trying to change the tone of the borough, and want to gentrify it.”

A High Court judge ruled earlier this month that Camden’s policy – and the way it was introduced – was not unlawful.

Licensing committee chair Councillor Maryam Eslamdoust said:  “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.”

Debunking The Political Smoke & Mirrors

Debunking The Political Smoke & Mirrors

PUBLISHED in Keep Streets Live in Camden FACEBOOK group by Jonny Walker, ASAP’s Founding Director. ‘Like’ the page here.

In this deputation I am calling upon the Licensing Committee to recommend to Council that the plans to license busking in the Borough of Camden be dropped immediately and that the council instead begins a new process of consultation in the form of a public forum involving residents, business owners, musicians, artists and professional bodies to work out a way of managing the issues that arise from busking.

In the report that was prepared for Cabinet last week and sits before you tonight many claims were made.

It is claimed that this policy ‘takes into the account the priority of harnessing economic growth by creating a light touch regulatory framework that permits most street entertainment to take place, while taking a proportionate approach on necessary restrictions.

Councillor Abdul Hai claimed that this policy would add value and vibrancy to Camden although he didn’t explain how making people who play the clarinet on the street apply for a special licence that costs £49 and takes 20 working days to process will add to spontaneity and vibrancy is not explained.

He claimed that the the new policy was necessary because busking was impacting upon people’s quality of life and that buskers were suffocating people with continuous, non-stop amplified music.

I have conducted a through analysis of the 108 complaints received in the entire borough of Camden in the last year relating to busking.

42 separate people made one complaint in the year
5 people complained twice
3 people complained three times
3 people complained four times
1 person complained nine times
1 person complained eleven times
1 person complained fifteen times

This means that means that 56 of the 108 total complaints were made by 9 people in the entire Borough of Camden for an entire year.

Many of these complaints are spurious or seem to be complaining about the fact that a busker is there AT ALL:

Complainant 27 : ‘Busking on Camden Lock’
Complainant 25 : ‘Busking on Camden High Street’
Complainant 55: ‘Busker on Canal Tow Path on Oval Road’
Complainant 37: ‘Reporting Busking near Canal Bridge’
Complainant 17: ‘Busker – has been there a number of times – Camden Lock’
Complainant 22: ‘Two African drummers’
Complainant 10: ‘Busker adjacent to canal bridge, camden lock’
Complainant 8: i) ‘bongoes drumming’ ii) 2 LOUD live guitars iii) two drummers outside the station’

Many of these ‘complaints’ are objecting to the very presence of the busker on the street and could well reflect the prejudice of the person calling in. No account is made in the log as to whether the complaint was valid or what investigation was made. This log constitutes a very flimsy evidence base for the introduction of the policy and leaves it wide open to legal challenge. There may be a small minority of residents who feel very strongly that busking should be strictly controlled or banned altogether but is it the job of the council to mould the culture of Camden around the desires of a small group of people, or rather to keep in mind the common good and act on behalf of all who live, work and visit Camden and make it the wonderful place it is.

Councillor Abdul Hai has claimed in media interviews that 64% of residents support the policy based on the consultation but this claim is entirely misleading.

Firstly only 55 Camden Residents (out of 250,000) responded to the consultation. Of these only 30% were in agreement with all or the majority of the policy whilst a further 39% were mainly in favour of the policy but answered ‘No’ to one or more questions.

Given that the consultation presented busking in a negative light making unsubstantiated claims in its introduction that busking causes danger to people and opportunities for petty criminals (Claims I have asked to see via as yet unanswered Freedom of Information requests) and every question after the first assumed that the policy would be introduced the design of the consultation was intended to produce a desired outcome.

Even so only 16% of the 155 people surveyed agreed with all the policy or most of the policy and over 57% of the people who answered the consultation were either opposed to regulation outright, or opposed regulation whilst agreeing with parts of the policy.

Additionally changes to the 2003 Licensing Act. mean that you no longer need a licence for a range of live music performances that used to require one. The Live Music Act 2012 amended the 2003 Act. These changes are in conflict with the provisions under the London Local Authority Act 2000 section 5 upon which Camden is basing this new policy and will open it up to legal challenge by judicial review.
You no longer need a special licence to stage a live music performance if:
it takes place between 8am and 11pm
it takes place at a licensed premises or workplace
the audience is less than 200 people
You don’t need a licence to put on unamplified live music any place between the same hours.
Live music that doesn’t need a licence
Examples of performances that generally don’t need a licence under the Act are:
spontaneous singing – eg people singing along to recorded music in a pub
incidental music – live music that is incidental to other activities that aren’t classed as regulated entertainment
rehearsals and sound checks (unless members of the public are charged admittance for the purpose of making profit)
DJ playing tracks (unless he or she performs a set which consists mixing recorded music to create new sounds)
The Live Music Act regulates live performances, not recorded music.

The powers granted to council officials under the new proposals are draconian and contentious. Fines of £1000, the seizure of instruments and selling them after 28 days to pay unpaid fines are measures that come into potential conflict with the Human Rights Act on several grounds including:

Right to liberty and security

Right to a fair trial
No punishment without law

Freedom of thought, belief and religion
Freedom of expression
Freedom of assembly and association
13. Protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms
14. Right to peaceful enjoyment of your property

Any enforcement action taken against buskers under the new policy would be open to challenge and appeal in the High Court on any of these grounds.

This busking policy will not solve the problem it has been introduced to solve. It is a preposterous overreaction to a relatively small number of complaints that can be addressed using existing legislation and the introduction of a well thought through Code of Conduct that has been agreed between buskers, residents, professional bodies and business representatives. The Council should act as a steward of the common good by providing a forum for the equitable resolution of disputes and not introduce top-heavy legislation with the potential to negatively alter the cultural and social well-being of Camden.

I have attached for the consideration of the committee two examples of well thought through busking policies from Liverpool and Bournemouth that would be cost-effective to introduce and use existing legislation to deal with such issues as do arise.

Mark Thomas/Jonny Walker Vs Councillor Abdul Hai

PUBLISHED by the Camden New Journal, by Richard Osley on 24/10/13

ONE of Camden’s most senior politicians was ambushed by busking campaigners, including the comedian Mark Thomas, as he tried to film a television interview defending a new licensing policy.

Community safety chief Councillor Abdul Hai was in the middle of an interview with BBC London when Mr Thomas and campaigner Jonny Walker jumped in and called for a re-think.

They accused the council of not having enough evidence to justify new controls on busking.

Cllr Hai had decided to allow the interview to be filmed just yards from the scene of a demonstration against plans to demand all buskers obtain a licence to perform in Camden’s streets and a move to ban amplified and wind instruments.

Billy Bragg and Bill Bailey had been among the crowd singing ‘We will overcome’ outside Camden Town tube station.