Manifesto Club: Camden Council’s War On Buskers

Manifesto Club: Camden Council’s War On Buskers

Published by Freedom Hotline’s Blog on Manifesto Club.

See the Manifesto Club’s article here.

The Campaign group Keep Streets Live is challenging Camden Council’s draconian new busking law in the High Court.

The new law is extraordinarily severe, anathema to this vibrant and chilled part of London with a lively street music scene.

Not only will buskers have to apply in advance and pay for a licence, there are also strict rules and conditions for busking which will make the activity all but impossible.

The very notion of a licence undermines the nature of busking which is – in the words of Keep Streets Live director Jonny Walker – ‘an informal and impromptu form of entertainment’. Buskers move from place to place, playing in up to 40 different cities in a year, and pitches ‘are often fluid and change with the dynamic of the street and the time of day’.

Camden Council has also set precise rules the kinds of licensed busking which will be permitted. There are rules on where buskers may stand (50m away from each other, and leaving 1.8m clearance on the pavement). The council has pretty much banned amplification, even though this is necessary to make many instruments and singing voices audible over background noise. The council has also limited the use of drums and wind or brass instruments, including flutes and recorders, which are too noisy, apparently; entire sections of the musical repertoire are barred at a stroke.

Council wardens will be granted with draconian powers to crack down on unlicensed strummers and singers. Unlicensed buskers could be fined £1000, and council wardens have powers to confiscate instruments in lieu of this fine. Even licensed buskers can be issued with directions to move on or stop playing by council officers.

The council appears to view busking solely as a nuisance and troublesome activity. Indeed, it claims that busking can cause ‘a risk to safety of people using the street, and that increased opportunities have been created for crime to occur, such as pickpocketing’. So banjos are the cause of pickpocketing.

What this law represents is not a real problem in Camden: there are very few public complaints about buskers in the area. Instead, the busking law represents the growing view in councils that all unregulated social life is problematic, messy and latently criminal. Anything informal and spontaneous – whether busking, leafleting, or impromptu games in the park – is increasingly being subject to formal licences and procedures. Public space starts to become official space: you need a licence before you can act.

Keep Streets Live suggests the use of informal codes of busking etiquette, to deal with the disputes that can sometimes arise between the different users of public space. No busker wants to annoy people – after all, it’s bad for business.

Busking can be good or bad, depending on the busker and your taste, but it is inextricably part of public urban life, part of the vibe of the place. Somebody pitching up with their instrument, picking a tune – it’s one of the few ways now that the experience of public space can be unscripted and unexpected, made by a citizen rather than designed by councils or corporates.

In short, busking is one of the few things people still do in public space; it’s one of the few ways that public space is still public. What happens in Camden is therefore important for the rest of the country.

Keep Streets Live managed to turn around attempts to control busking in York and Liverpool. The organisation is running a funding drive to fund the costs of their High Court challenge to the Camden law. Do throw a penny in their hat.

UPDATE: The High Court has rejected the case, ruling that Camden council’s law is ‘necessary and proportionate’. The campaign is now planning to take to the Court of Appeal.

The Economic Voice: London Greens Select Busking Campaigner To Stand at May 2014 Elections

The Economic Voice: London Greens Select Busking Campaigner To Stand at May 2014 Elections

Published by on 21st February 2014.

See The Economic Voice’s article here.

Comedian Ben Van der Velde, a campaigner against Camden Council’s draconian busking policy, has been selected to stand for the Green Party in Camden Town with Primrose Hill ward in May’s local election.

Van der Velde will be challenging three ward councillors (two Labour, one Lib Dem) who all voted to introduce one of the harshest busking policies in modern UK history against Green opposition in November. Under Camden Council’s new scheme unlicensed buskers across the entire borough of Camden face a criminal record, fines of up to £1,000, the seizure of instruments in the streets and the forced sale of musical instruments to pay fines after 28 days.

Camden Council have elected to criminalise busking and turn otherwise law-abiding musicians into pariahs”, said Van der Velde. “It is a sad day when local government manages to legislate against the right to play music in public freely. Let buskers continue to help the public walk down the high street with a little swing in their step and a bop in their legs.”

Explaining his decision to stand as a Green candidate, Van der Velde, said:

The Green Party understands the diverse nature of modern life and the powerful force that diversity can be when correctly channeled. It’s emphasis on a society focused on improved equality and the cultivations of positive health, education and transport services for all, regardless of background, makes it the only true progressive party.”

Green Councillor Maya de Souza welcomed Van der Velde’s decision to stand:

Van der Velde and the Keep Streets Live Campaign to protect street performance is in step with the Green way of thinking which is very strongly supportive of creative and artistic activity and of allowing people as much freedom as possible to develop these aspects of themselves, and indeed to make a livelihood in this way.

Van der Velde’s selection comes ahead of a High Court hearing on February 27 and 28 of a legal challenge brought by the Keep Streets Live Campaign, which is asking a judge to quash the contentious policy.

Ham & High: Comedian To Stand Up To Busking Laws As Green Party Candidate

Ham & High: Comedian To Stand Up To Busking Laws As Green Party Candidate

Published by the Ham & High on February 19th 2014.

View the article on the Ham & High here.

A stand-up comedian opposed to Camden Council’s new busking licensing laws is hoping to be elected as a Green Party councillor in May’s elections.


Ben Van der Velde, 30, has been selected to stand for the Greens in Camden Town with Primrose Hill.

The Oxford University graduate, who has lived in Camden Town for four years, performs stand-up routines in clubs across the UK and appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2012.

He felt compelled to stand as a councillor following Camden Council’s decision in November to introduce rules requiring buskers to purchase annual licences if they want to perform on the streets.

He said: “The first time I ever visited London on my own I headed straight for Camden Town – it’s a Mecca for music-lovers and young people the world over.

“I had an hour to kill before friends turned up so I got out my guitar and started playing – an innocent, creative and friendly act by a new kid in town.

“Thanks to the ludicrous new legislation put in place, if I did that now I’d be committing a criminal offence punishable by a £1,000 fine and the seizure of my guitar – unless I’d first bought a licence and waited 20 working days for a council panel to decide whether I was a ‘fit and proper person’ to busk!”

On February 27 and 28, busking campaigners will bring a judicial review of Camden Council’s licensing laws to the High Court.