Camden’s Street Culture Under Threat

Camden’s Street Culture Under Threat

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!

 

 

Liverpool’s policy and our objections, Part 3

Liverpool’s policy and our objections, Part 3

Photo: agm92

 

Liverpool City Council say:

9. The entertainer must not sell, offer for sale or expose for sale any merchandise such as pre-recorded CDs, tapes, t-shirts or postcards.

 

We say:

Why does the council not follow the example of York who allow buskers to purchase an occasional street trading consent for the purposes of selling CDs or Gloucester which allows a small CD box to be in the receptacle? Often street performing is a way for musicians to get work elsewhere and they give away CDs with examples of their work to help them get gigs. We see nothing wrong with giving away CDs to people who are interested in them.

 

They say:

10. The entertainer must not distribute confectionery or other foods, flyers or free merchandise.

 

We say:

We see no reason why somebody who was interested in a performer and finding out more about them should be prevented from taking a flyer or a free CD. Again, this is restrictive for no good reason and an unnecessary restraint of trade. On the other hand, we can understand their point with regards to food and confectionery and would not encourage performers to distribute food as part of their act (we can assure you that this is not the practise of most Street Performers in any event).

 

They say:

11. Entertainers must cease their performance and move on if requested to do so for any reason by a Police Constable or a Council Officer. For the avoidance of doubt, such reason may include the Constable or Officer not being satisfied in their opinion that the performance is of a satisfactory quality.

 

We say:

This is where the policy slips into really murky waters. Liverpool City Council are claiming summary powers to stop performances for any reason. Are we to believe that Liverpool council and police officers should take on the role of a poor man’s SImon Cowell? This would be amusing if it wasn’t such an encroachment upon a person’s freedom, and the rights of an audience to decide for themselves what they enjoy listening to. This is not the role of a city council, and this clause introduces a massive potential for abuse on the part of individual officers.

 

They say:

12. It is illegal for persons under 18 to play, sing or perform in a street for money or monies.

 

We say:

George Harrison was 17 when the Beatles played Hamburg. He would have been too young to perform on Liverpool’s streets under the council’s new policy. George Samson, the street dancer who was 14 when he won Britain’s Got Talent, would have been arrested for trespass under the new policy. The new policy unnecessarily restricts the rights of up and coming talent to perform on the streets, and this at a time of high youth unemployment. It is yet another example of council over-reach. Furthermore, the government’s own guidelines state that busking is permissible for anybody over the age of 14.

 

They say:

13. The entertainer must be eligible to work in the UK.

 

We say:

Now the council is acting in the capacity of immigration service and border control as well as talent show judge.

 

They say:

14. The entertainer must be in possession of a valid Liverpool City Council Street Performance Permit whenever a performance takes place and must produce the same on request made by a Police Constable or Council Officer.

 

We say:

This policy is so restrictive that we would advise any street performer not to sign up to it. By signing up to this policy performers give tacit legitimacy to a policy that, at root, is coercive and restrictive. We would advise any potential street performers in Liverpool to join our campaign against this policy, and get the council to think again.