Our Response To Camden Council’s Consultation

Our Response To Camden Council’s Consultation

ASAP (Association of Street Artists And Performers) Founder and Director, Jonny Walker was invited to respond to the proposal set out for the strict regulation of busking and street performance by Camden Council. This is his response, on behalf of ASAP!, sent to the council on 1st October 2013, alongside the launch of his petition against such a draconian scheme coming into place:

SIGN THE PETITION to support the musicians and street performers of Camden

Camden Council’s busking consultation was published online – see here

1.) Camden is concerned with the numbers of entertainers who are using amplifiers and loud musical instruments on the street, some of whom have little regard to occupiers of property in the area or other people using the street. Camden believes that nuisance has been caused to local residents and businesses, and that there is potential for nuisance to be caused in any part of the borough. Camden also believes that on some occasions there is a risk to safety of people using the street, and that increased opportunities have been created for crime to occur, such as pickpocketing.
Part V of the London Local Authorities Act 2000 (“the Act”) provides optional powers for London Councils to adopt to license busking, and Camden has created the proposed Policy according to the powers contained in that Act. Camden does not intend to use the Policy to prevent busking, but instead introduce a licensing regime to control street entertainment on the highway and on open spaces in the area only where this is necessary.
Do you agree that Camden should adopt the Act to regulate busking for the reasons given, and that it should apply to the whole borough?


The London Local Authorities Act 2000 empowers public officials or approved contractors to seize the musical instruments/equipment of unlicensed buskers, to impose fines of up to £1000, and to sell a busker’s instruments if the fine is not paid within 28 days. These powers are draconian and have the potential to deprive people of their livelihoods and the tools of their trade. To our knowledge they have only been adopted by Hillingdon Council so far, not a London Borough renowned for its cultural offering! Whilst other Councils have considered implementing this Act, they have so far decided against it. The implications of Camden adopting this Act are troubling for Camden’s deserved reputation as an artistic and cultural hub.

In addition to target wind and percussion instruments and amplifiers per se, rather than actual noise complaints, is unfair to any musician who plays these instruments. Camden is a busy place, there is lots of noise from traffic, roadworks, shops and other places. An amplifier is often an essential part of a street musicians toolkit and can always be turned down if requested.

The London Local Authorities Act 2000 does not allow councils to ‘prevent’ busking, however it does allow them to introduce a license for busking on designated streets, provided certain criteria have been met. However, the threshold for the introduction of the London Local Authorities Act requires evidence of ‘undue interference with’ or ‘risk to safety of persons using a street in that part of their area, or other streets within the vicinity of that street’ or ‘nuisance to the occupiers of property in or in the vicinity of a street in that part of their area’. These thresholds would need to be evidenced thoroughly in order to justify the imposition of a Licensing Regime. The claims made by Camden Council regarding alleged threats to public safety and nuisance, made in order to justify the introduction of a License regime are vague and consist of unsubstantiated conjecture and would be therefore open to legal challenge at this point. In any event it would be necessary for the council to demonstrate that these thresholds had been clearly met, and justified the imposition of a license, not just in the streets that had experienced ‘problems’, but throughout the entire Borough. We have made Freedom of Information requests to ascertain where the complaints are coming from, and from whom. We have also made requests to the police for evidence of ‘danger’ caused by busking, and specific examples of opportunities for pickpocketing to occur as a result of busking.

Additionally there are a number of laws available to the police and the local authority that relate to noise, obstruction and public nuisance. These include, but are not limited to:

Highways Act 1980 deals with Obstruction

Public Order Act

Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 (Local Authorities)
Extends powers for local authorities to clean up the environment, and applies controls over noisy premises, advertisements and waste.

Environmental Noise (England) Regulations 2006 SI 2238 (Local Authorities)
Requires the Government to identify noise sources for strategic noise maps and noise action areas to be drawn up for, covering large areas of population, major roads, railways and airports.

Environmental Noise (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2009 SI 1610 (Local Authorities)
Amends 2006/2238 by making changes to the definition of ‘consolidated noise map’ and to the identification of noise sources and ‘quiet areas’.

Environmental Protection Act 1990 (Environment Agency and Local Authority)
Defines within England, Scotland and Wales the legal framework for duty of care for waste, contaminated land and statutory nuisance.

Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993 (Local Authorities)
Sets measures for street noise, operating loudspeakers in a street, intruder alarms and covers local council expenses for abating or preventing nuisance from recurring.

Noise Emission in the Environment by Equipment for Use Outdoors Regulations 2001 SI 1701 (Local Authorities)
Establishes maximum noise levels for equipment used outdoors, mainly in construction and land maintenance, such as generators, lawn mowers, compaction machines and concrete breakers.

Noise Emission in the Environment by Equipment for Use Outdoors (Amendment) Regulations 2001 SI 3958 (Local Authorities)
Amends 2001/1701 to clarify that the regulations apply to the sound power level of equipment.

Noise Emission in the Environment by Equipment for Use Outdoors (Amendment) Regulations 2005 SI 3525 (Local Authorities)
Amends 2001/1701 to set out the sound power limits for various categories of equipment.

Local Authorities Statutory Nuisance (Appeals) Regulations 1995 SI 2644 (Local Authorities)
Describes the grounds for appealing against abatement notices for statutory nuisances.

The local authority and the police have a wide range of existing powers that can be adequately used against buskers who are creating a genuine nuisance. By introducing a mandatory license scheme for busking Camden will effectively be criminalising an activity that, provided it did not breach other legislation, was previously legal. This constitutes the creation of an additional layer of bureaucracy and restriction upon the use of public space and risks diminishing the cultural life of the Borough. This is unnecessary because the council and the police already have the powers they need in order to deal with episodes of genuine nuisance. We could point to cities as diverse as Glasgow, Edinburgh, Chester, Bath, Norwich, Cambridge and Bournemouth as places where the council publishes a busking code backed up national legislation, but without placing undue restrictions upon the use of public space

2.) If Camden adopts the Act and includes the whole borough, busking will be prohibited in all parts of the borough without a license, unless the type of entertainment is excluded from needing a license. Camden may only issue busking licenses in areas that have been designated as a licensed street, and therefore Camden proposes to designate the whole borough as a licensed street.
This approach is proposed to avoid:
a. any confusion about where busking is and isn’t permitted or where a license is required,
b. prohibiting busking in certain areas; and
c. displacement of buskers from one area to another.

Do you agree that the whole borough should be designated as a licensed street?

If you don’t agree please state why not, and if appropriate, specify what areas should or shouldn’t be subject to the controls over busking.

ASAP! does not agree with scheme in its current form and does not feel that particular streets should be turned into ‘licensed streets’.

There are many streets in Camden with little history of busking-related complaints, safety issues or nuisance concerns. The imposition of a license across the entire borough is not a proportionate response to the noise complaints that have been received by Camden Council.

Using the Act in a blanket, ‘catch-all’ fashion to cover the entirety of the Borough of Camden is not justified and brings areas which may have had few, if any, busking related incidents under the same regulatory framework which applies to those areas that have attracted more complaints. The business community of Hampstead, for instance, welcomes buskers and have drawn up their own code of conduct and system of auditions which works well. Why should strict controls be placed upon that part of Camden because there have been complaints in other areas?

Busking without a license should be allowed throughout Camden, provided that the busking is undertaken with consideration for other users of shared public space.

3.) Permitted Times
Camden proposes to prescribe permitted times in the street designation of 10:00 to 21:00 on all days.
The proposed permitted times in the street designation are to be treated as maximum hours, and shorter hours can be applied as a license condition if necessary.
This proposal is made following initial feedback from members of the public and discussions with the Licensing Committee on appropriate times.
Do you agree with the proposed maximum hours set out here?

The permitted times proposed are unduly restrictive and prescriptive. Camden has a visitor economy that reflects its vibrant and varied nightlife as well as its many day time attractions. By excluding the possibility of any street performance after 9pm, Camden are removing an important aspect of the visitor experience after this time.

Permitted times should be informal and should reflect the fact that different streets have different rhythms often depending on the day of the week as well as the time of day. Busking after a certain time would be inappropriate later on in a street that is predominately residential, but there are parts of Camden which begin to get busy only after 9pm and buskers form part of the visible landscape of the night time visitor economy. Good buskers naturally time their performances accordingly.

There is a growing body of academic evidence emerging from the field of Human Geography that points to the fact that buskers can create a sense of place in and help promote urban well-being whilst creating opportunities for spontaneous and serendipitous encounters. In addition, busking can make the streets feel safer at night. Buskers act as an extra pair of eyes at street level, can witness and report crimes, and can help towards creating a more welcoming atmosphere particularly at night when there is often more prevalence of anti-social behaviour. Music changes the atmosphere of a street and can make them seem like less threatening places.

There is huge potential for buskers to work collaboratively alongside neighbourhood policing teams in the common aim of making the streets a safer and more pleasant environment. Buskers with relevant training in first aid and dealing with homelessness and other social problems have the potential to be civic assets and to work alongside the local authority towards the common goal of improving the well being of those who live in and visit Camden, regardless of the time of day.

4.) Excluded Entertainment
Camden proposes to exclude the following types of entertainment from needing a busking license:
d. Entertainment that does not include music as part of the performance and does not involve the use of amplifiers. Examples of such entertainment are, without limitation, clowns, juggling, mime artists, living statues, puppet shows, poetry readings, or anything similar. (Any entertainment of this nature that does include music or use amplifiers for the performance will still need a busking license, unless it benefits from another exemption)
e. Carol Singing, Maypole Dancing, Morris Dancing, or similar entertainment that is a traditional part of seasonal festivities.
f. Any entertainment that is performed on a bandstand or similar site within a park or open space. For this exemption to apply, the site must be provided on a permanent basis by the landowner or person responsible for managing the park or open space.
g. Any entertainment that is performed as part of a street party, community festival, charitable fundraising event, protest march or similar event.
h. Any entertainment that is part of an event organized by Camden or has been organized in conjunction with Camden.

Do you agree that Camden should exclude the types of entertainment listed from needing a busking license?



Camden’s decision to single out music amongst all other forms of entertainment is deeply regrettable, particularly in the light of Camden’s deserved reputation as a mainstay of the live music scene in London. The proposal to exempt community events and seasonal entertainment from the requirements is welcome, but only serves to highlight how restrictive the licensing requirement remains for anybody who wishes to use a musical instrument in the shared public spaces of Camden without prior approval. This is a form of pre-emptive discrimination against all musicians when compared to other art forms.

Morris Dancing, Maypole dancing, community events and protest marches all have the potential to be hugely disruptive. The fact that Camden are exempting them from controls, as well as other forms of street entertainment, shows that the plans to license all musical busking are also unnecessary.

A sensible policy would not single out music, instead it would focus on intrusion and actual noise levels in specific, individual instances, which can easily be taken with a decibel metre. A blanket license upon music alone is unjustified.

5.) Application Requirements
Camden proposes that the following documents need to be submitted with the application:
i. A completed Busking License application form, with the details required in Camden’s regulations (Appendix C of the Policy)
j. A passport sized photograph of the applicant
k. The license fee in full

Application Requirements from Appendix C of the Policy
All applications should be made on the application form provided by Camden, and should be accompanied by a passport size photograph of the performer, along with the application fee.
The following information is required for all applications:
a. Name and Address (where the application is made by a group, the Name and Address of all members of that group)
b. Contact details
c. Type of entertainment to be performed and description of equipment to be used
d. Whether the applicant has previously been refused a busking license (in Camden or elsewhere) or has had a busking license revoked
The following information is required to vary or remove the standard conditions:
a. The conditions requested to be varied, with any proposals for alternative conditions
b. The locations where the entertainment is intended to be performed with sufficient information to identify those locations (e.g. street addresses, local landmarks etc.)
c. The times the entertainment is to be performed
d. The expected duration of performances
e. The number of performances expected per week/month/year (as appropriate) in each location
f. If amplifiers are to be used, further details for that equipment including the make and model, maximum power output and expected battery life. If known, the Sound Pressure Level (or dB) output of the speaker should also be provided.
Do you agree that the application requirements are appropriate? (Including those set out in the regulations at Appendix C)

ASAP! disagrees with a mandatory license for busking. We disagree with the imposition of a licence fee and the requirement to agree with terms and conditions that are unduly restrictive and which have not been agreed collaboratively. The imposition of an application process will exclude people who can’t afford the licence fee, and who are only going to be in Camden for a short time. Many buskers travel from place to place so access to public space is really important for them. If an application process is introduced it will mean that many people are excluded from performing at all. Also, performers who are only going to be visiting for a short while will not be able to justify paying an annual fee. Many professional buskers perform in over 40 towns and cities a year. If they faced controls like this in every area it would be impossible to make an income.

The application process, particularly where variations to the standard conditions is concerned, is unduly prescriptive. Busking is characteristically an informal and impromptu form of entertainment. Introducing mandatory busking licences fundamentally misconstrues the very nature of busking which is characterised by informal performances which slot into the urban landscape. Busking pitches are often fluid and change with the dynamic of the street and the time of day.
By asking for expected performance durations and the number of expected performances in a given year as a condition of its license, Camden risks removing the spontaneity that is intrinsic to the nature of busking.

6.) Decision making procedure

The proposal includes a procedure that will be followed to determine applications, which is summarized as:
Grant: All applications that do not request to remove or vary the standard conditions, unless there have been previous enforcement/compliance issues
Refuse: All applications that go beyond the hours of 10am to 9pm, or are for a street that is not a Licensed Street
Grant or Refuse: All other applications will be determined by an officer panel who can either grant or refuse the application. This may include requests to vary Standard Conditions, where a license has previously been revoked, or where there have been other compliance issues

Procedure to Determine Applications from Appendix C of the Policy
All Applications
l. Applications for any street (or area) that is not a Licensed Street will in all cases be refused (see Section 3 of the Policy)
m. A License will not be granted for times beyond the maximum hours set out in Section 3 of the Policy
New Applications
e. Applications that do not request any changes to the standard conditions will in most cases be granted by default.
f. Applications granted by default will be granted subject to the Standard Conditions for a period of 12 months, and will permit busking in any area designated as a Licensed Street.
g. Applications that involve the use of equipment not permitted by the Standard Conditions (e.g. amplifiers) will be refused unless a variation to the Standard Conditions is requested (see procedure below)
h. Applications from performers that have previously had an application refused, a license revoked, or have been the subject of complaints or enforcement action will be decided according to the procedure for variations (see procedure below)
Variation Applications and Panel Procedures
g. Applications that request changes to the Standard Conditions or that aren’t granted by default will be determined by an officer panel (“the Panel) and according to this Policy.
h. The Panel will be formed of at least three Council officers who have knowledge and experience of street entertainment or other relevant issues, which can include (but not limited to) cultural events & festivals, entertainment licensing, highways enforcement, noise/nuisance prevention and street trading.
i. The Panel will always strive to ensure that when it is considering an application all persons get a proper and fair hearing through:
Considering each case on its merits.
Using the Policy to assess applications and make a determination
Dealing with the application in a balanced and impartial manner.
Ensuring that the rules of natural justice are applied in any hearings held.
Giving a person making an application sufficient opportunity to present information for consideration in support of their application.

1. The starting point for the Panel will be that the Standard Conditions are imposed by default on all Busking Licenses, which have been consulted on and are Regulations made by Camden under the Act. The Panel will only remove or vary the Standard Conditions if a good reason to do so is provided by the applicant, and where the applicant has provided proposals to prevent or limit potential public nuisance to nearby occupiers, or address other relevant concerns. The Panel must give its reasons for removing or varying each Standard Condition.
2. To ensure application costs are kept to a minimum and that applications can be determined as promptly as possible, the panel will normally determine applications according to written documents provided by the applicant and will not normally invite oral representations to be made in person by the applicant.
3. The applicant will be informed in advance that the application is to be considered by the Panel, and will have the opportunity to provide any additional information that they wish to provide in support of the their application.
4. If the applicant requests to make oral representations to the Panel (i.e. attend the panel in person to explain the application), the Panel has discretion to allow this but is not required to allow oral representations. If the Panel exercises its discretion, this will not involve an audition process and no facilities will be provided for performances to be carried on. The Panels role is to determine the application in line with this Policy, and not to make an assessment on the type or quality of the performance.
5. The decision of the Panel will be confirmed in writing to the applicant as soon as is reasonably practicable after the panel meeting.
6. The Panel may grant a license for a duration up to 12 months, but also has discretion to grant a license for a shorter period depending on the circumstances.
7. The Panel will always grant a license subject to the Standard Conditions that haven’t been varied or removed, and may also apply additional conditions to the license according to Section 7 of the Policy.
Do you agree that the procedure is appropriate? (Including that set out in the regulations at Appendix C)

The process for obtaining a non-standard, or indeed, a standard license is unduly bureaucratic and burdensome, not to say costly. Most professional buskers use some form of amplification equipment, usually battery powered amps, in order to be heard, within a certain radius, over the ambient street noise (traffic, shops, roadworks, people). There is no clear explanation of timescales for consideration of applications for the non-standard license. The panel is not obliged to hear oral representations for this license. There appears to be a clear presumption against granting a non-standard license, unless an (unspecified) good reason is given. The clear intent of this seems to be to make it very difficult to legitimately use ANY amplifier, wind instrument or percussive instrument, regardless of the noise level, or the aptitude of the performer, or the noise level relative to the surrounding environment. A presumption appears to exist that busking is intrinsically a nuisance or potential nuisance which appears to prejudge the issue.

In addition, many of the conditions listed in table 1 ‘grounds for refusal of applications’ are not reasonable. In many cases they are not controllable by the busker for example footfall and crime levels. ASAP would value an opportunity to look at Camden Council’s (CC) criteria for assessing what an acceptable ‘type of performance’ is, and how that criteria has been arrived at.

People using public space for informal performances of art and music should not be subject to unnecessary or excessive controls and interference from the police or the local authority. Any action taken against a busker should be proportionate and appropriate and backed up by substantiated evidence, namely, decibel-readings taken by a competent and qualified Environmental Health officer. Only in cases where demonstrable harm is being done should enforcement action be taken. In the vast majority of instances, mutually respectful dialogue and cooperation can resolve disputes.

7.) Standard Conditions
The Standard Conditions proposed are designed to allow flexibility for buskers, and are intended to prevent nuisance and obstructions. The conditions do not limit where performances can be carried on, but place the onus on the busker to ensure the location is suitable for their performance.
The Standard Conditions also prevent the following types of equipment and instruments for use on a street.
n. Amplifiers, loud speakers, megaphones, or anything similar
o. Drums or Drum kits (including objects being used as a drum)
p. Wind instruments, including brass instruments and woodwind instruments.

Standard Conditions contained in Appendix B of the Policy
1. The license must be displayed when performing and shown to either an Authorized Officer or Police Officer on request.
2. The license permits Busking on any street in Camden between the hours of 10am to 9pm, unless restricted by an additional condition on the license.
3. The license only permits Busking by the performer(s) named on the license, and may not be used by, or transferred to, another person.
4. Music and singing shall not be performed at a level that causes public nuisance or annoyance to any business or resident.
5. The following types of equipment and instruments are not permitted for use on a street:
i. Amplifiers, loud speakers, megaphones, or anything similar
j. Drums or Drum kits (including objects being used as a drum)
k. Wind instruments, including brass instruments and woodwind instruments.
6. Performances may only be carried on in a location with sufficient space for the performance (and taking into account the number of performers) and the expected audience size. The location must not be on or adjacent to pedestrian crossings, bus stops or station entrances/exits, or other doorways to residential or business properties.
7. The performance must not be carried on in a way that causes an obstruction to pedestrians or traffic. This includes preventing any audience blocking the pavement so that pedestrians have to walk in the road to get past, with the space left for pedestrians being at least 1.8m measured from the edge of the kerb to the area being used for the performance and any associated audience.
8. A suitable distance from other Buskers must be maintained, and a performance must not be carried on or started within 50m of another busker already performing.
9. No pyrotechnics, fireworks or similar shall be used as part of the performance.
10. The license holder must comply with any direction given by an Authorized Officer or Police officer, which may include directions to stop performing or to move location to prevent a public nuisance or obstruction being caused.
Do you agree that all the Standard Conditions in Appendix B of the Policy are suitable?

No instruments should be prevented from being used. Amplifiers can be turned to an appropriate level, drums can be played using brushes, and wind instruments can be played with a range of dynamics. To exclude any form of instrument as a matter of policy is antithetical to a culture of creativity and diversity on the streets of Camden.

1. The licence must be displayed when performing and shown to either an Authorised Officer or Police Officer on request.

It should not be necessary to hold or to display licences for busking. Busking is a legitimate activity and use of public space.

2. The licence permits Busking on any street in Camden between the hours of 10am to 9pm, unless restricted by an additional condition on the licence.

See earlier comments about times on a licence.

3. The licence only permits Busking by the performer(s) named on the licence, and may not be used by, or transferred to, another person.

Performers should be allowed to perform unless it can be lawfully demonstrated that they are causing harm to others. Evidence against buskers should be substantiated. Action against buskers should be proportionate to the ‘harm’ caused.

4. Music and singing shall not be performed at a level that causes public nuisance or annoyance to any business or resident.

The word ‘any’ is highly problematic. Some residents or businesses may not like any buskers and might make frequent complaints despite the fact that every other resident and business in the area enjoys what buskers are doing. This clause has the potential to give undue influence to potentially ONE complaint.

5. The following types of equipment and instruments are not permitted for use on a street:

Amplifiers, loud speakers, megaphones, or anything similar
Drums or Drum kits (including objects being used as a drum)
Wind instruments, including brass instruments and woodwind instruments.

This is unreasonable, and irrational. It discriminates against entire genres of music and musicians. it overlooks the fact that most professional street musicians support performances with amplifiers because they need to be heard just above the level of ambient street noise for the performance to be effective. This clause criminalises whole groups of instruments and stifles creativity and spontaneity. It should be replaced by a clause that relates to noise levels and intrusion, rather than groups of instruments and equipment per se.

6. Performances may only be carried on in a location with sufficient space for the performance (and taking into account the number of performers) and the expected audience size. The location must not be on or adjacent to pedestrian crossings, bus stops or station entrances/exits, or other doorways to residential or business properties.

7. The performance must not be carried on in a way that causes an obstruction to pedestrians or traffic. This includes preventing any audience blocking the pavement so that pedestrians have to walk in the road to get past, with the space left for pedestrians being at least 1.8m measured from the edge of the kerb to the area being used for the performance and any associated audience.

Clause 6 and 7 relate to the same matter essentially, namely, the use of space. ASAP agrees that buskers should not cause obstruction and would advice buskers to choose their pitch with consideration to other users of shared space. However, as much of Camden is not pedestrianised, the requirement to allow over 1.8 metres of space for audiences to walk past will effectively apply to enormous areas of Camden. Often buskers perform in a spot where people walk past and don’t linger. Common sense principles should apply and narrow interpretations should be avoided.

8. A suitable distance from other Buskers must be maintained, and a performance must not be carried on or started within 50m of another busker already performing.

A 50 metre rule is a sensible principle for acts that generate noise. It should not apply in a blanket fashion to all buskers. In the case of jugglers and mime artists for instance, they can stand closer to a musical act and vice versa without causing undue interference to each other.

9. No pyrotechnics, fireworks or similar shall be used as part of the performance.

This is entirely sensible!

10. The licence holder must comply with any direction given by an Authorised Officer or Police officer, which may include directions to stop performing or to move location to prevent a public nuisance or obstruction being caused.

This clause should be amended to ‘any REASONABLE direction’. Buskers have the right to be expect fair treatment. They should not be prevented from performing in an arbitrary and capricious manner by any authorised officer or Police officer. This clause also seems to allow officers to act pre-emptively, namely when no problem is being caused, without having to offer proof or justification for their actions. This is not acceptable. An officer needs to have a lawful reason to stop any performer.

Whilst even the standard conditions for the busking licence are extremely restrictive, this policy and the licensing framework seems designed to make busking supported by amplification, wind and percussion instruments particularly difficult. There is a state presumption against amplification in most cases. Given that most professional street musicians generally use some form of amplification, this will affect most buskers who would be thinking of applying for a license from Camden.

The Standard Conditions are attached to all licenses, unless they have been expressly excluded or amended in any particular case. For details on the procedure for removing or varying the Standard Conditions see Sections 5 and 6. Applicants should note that Camden will only remove or vary the standard conditions if a good reason is provided by the applicant and that the request can be justified against this Policy.
Additional conditions may also be attached to a license and they may relate to the following criteria, amongst others:
q. the area in which busking may take place
r. the hours during which busking may take place
s. the prevention of obstruction to persons using the street
t. the prevention of public nuisance to the occupiers of nearby property
Permitted Times
Under the Street Designation, (see Section 3), the maximum permitted time for Busking is 10am to 9pm on any day of the week and these times have been included as a Standard Condition. The Standard Condition may be varied to set a shorter time, but may not allow earlier or later times.
Use of amplifiers
Camden is concerned about the use of amplifiers to support performances and the impact that the resulting noise has on local residents and business occupiers. The Standard Condition preventing amplifiers is therefore considered necessary in most cases.
Where requests are made to vary this condition, advice will normally be sought from an Environmental Health Officer or other person with specialist knowledge in noise prevention, who may also be a member of the Panel deciding the application. (see Section 6)
Consideration will be given to the location for the performance, the times of day requested, the duration of the performance and the likely volume to be audible at the nearest residential or business property.
Camden will not grant permission to use amplifiers on the street beyond 9pm under any circumstances. This is due to a restriction on using loudspeakers on the street between 9pm to 8am in Section 62 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974.
If permission to use amplifiers is granted, it is likely that additional conditions will be imposed to limit the times of day, duration of performances and permitted locations.
Use of Drums and Wind Instruments
Drums and Wind instruments are prevented through the Standard Conditions. If applications are made to remove or amend this condition, the Council expects applicants to demonstrate that they have considered the impact that this may have, and provide any additional conditions to manage that impact. The considerations could include:
l. The locations and times where performances will take place
m. The proximity to residents or businesses, and the likelihood of public nuisance being caused
n. The amount of space in the street at those locations
When the Council considers any request to remove or amend this condition, it will have high regard to the factors listed above, along with the rest of the Policy.
Do you agree with the guidance set out here for considering changes to the standard conditions?

‘The Standard Condition preventing amplifiers is therefore considered necessary in most cases’

The focus on amplification, wind and percussion instruments per se is unfortunate and appears to scapegoat these forms of instrumentation. A policy could be improved by focussing on noise levels and the intrusiveness of such a noise, rather than the form of instrumentation. In addition, it is not reasonable to suppose that a resident or business will not be able to ‘hear’ a busker. Clearly, most streets have residents and businesses on them. The relevant question must be, is this noise at an acceptable level, not can it be heard at all. Much of the noise in an urban environment originates with traffic which is typically louder than any busker. Investigations by the Live Music Forum into actual noise complaints made have shown that an estimated 90% of complaints relate to music from a domestic premise, not to mention noise from construction work, shops and the use of machinery. Therefore, Camden risks altering the whole character of the Borough and restricting the outlets for grassroots culture whilst leaving unaddressed the noise issues which actually cause most disruption to its residents.

9.) License Fees

A fee can be charged for a busking license, which can be determined by the Council to cover in whole or in part the reasonable administrative or other costs in connection with the functions under the Act. As with other license types, this may only be on a cost recovery basis as a maximum, and cannot be used to raise revenue to fund general Council services.
A fee is proposed to be charged on a cost recovery basis, which is expected to be in the region of:
New Applications (No changes to standard conditions):
Variation Applications:

Do you agree that it is appropriate for Camden to charge a fee on a cost recovery basis as indicated above?

If you don’t agree, please state how you believe Camden should finance the costs associated with determining applications and issuing licenses.

It is entirely unfair to impose a layer of restrictions upon buskers which will greatly diminish their ability to perform effectively in the Borough, and then to ask them to pay for it. This is effectively a tax upon the legitimate use of public space.

That a Labour controlled council has found the resources to implement this consultation and to propose a busking licence scheme, whilst making enormous cut backs in other areas of essential provision, highlights just one of the many troubling aspects of this policy. To ask the people whose freedom it proposes to take away to pay for its implementation is completely unacceptable. The policy in its present form should be replaced by a best practise guide which makes effective use of existing legislation and which aims to promote relationships of cooperation between users of shared public spaces. This will be a more effective use of public resources and will be cost effective because it can be achieved at little additional expense.

10.) Do you have any other comments to make on the proposed policy?

This proposed policy is highly problematic for a number of reasons. Whilst its stated intent is to reduce the increasing number of complaints that have been received about buskers in the last 12 months, its overall effect will be to drastically alter the cultural landscape of Camden, one of the most vibrant and diverse metropolitan districts in the world.

The London Local Authorities Act 2000 is a clumsy statutory instrument which empowers public officials or approved contractors to seize the musical instruments/equipment of unlicensed buskers, to impose fines of up to £1000, and to sell a busker’s instruments if the fine is not paid within 28 days. These powers are draconian and have the potential to deprive people of their livelihoods and the tools of their trade. They are vulnerable to legal challenge and have the capacity to generate immense adverse publicity for the council and for its elected representatives. It is also unnecessary because the council and police have the power, under existing legislation, to take appropriate action, including seizing equipment, but only after due process and the serving of noise abatement notices when it can de lawfully demonstrated that a genuine noise nuisance is being caused. In most cases, this approach will be entirely unnecessary. Residents and businesses and buskers should be encouraged to talk to each other and resolve disputes amicably with the involvement of police and council officers being a last resort

Street performance is characteristically an informal and impromptu expression of grassroots art and culture. Traditionally buskers move from place to place and are not confined to one area. A borough like Camden attracts musicians and artists from all over the world. Often bands who are performing in one of the many venues across the borough will take to the streets to publicise their gig in a spontaneous manner. By requiring people to sign up for a strict and highly limiting license system, Camden will be drastically reducing the number of people who will consider busking in the borough. Camden are effectively criminalising an activity with a high cultural benefit and greatly reducing their would-be pool of performers. In this consultation document busking appears to be regarded as a nuisance which needs to be tightly controlled, rather than as a valuable part of the cultural offering of Camden which supports and compliments the visitor economy, and adds to a sense of urban well being.

These regulations will have the effect of making it almost impossible to busk in Camden as well as setting a dubious example to the rest 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, in particular, upon 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.
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 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 such as 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. They should draw upon examples of best practise from cities as diverse as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cambridge, Norwich, Bournemouth, Canterbury, Liverpool and York where compulsory licences are not used to control busking issues, and the local authority instead creates a supportive framework for the management of the issues that inevitably arise in a busy and dynamic urban environment when people share space.


Liverpool’s Policy and Our Objections, Part 4

Liverpool’s Policy and Our Objections, Part 4

Photo: jp3g.


They say:

15. The entertainer must take all reasonable steps to manage the audience to ensure that they do not block the highway or any public place including when appropriate reminding the audience to leave a clear access along the highway, footpath or pedestrianised area. The entertainer must stop the entertainment immediately if the highway is obstructed by the street entertainment or the audience or if a risk arises to the safety of any individual or damage to the highway or adjoining structures.


We say:

Most of this is common sense and we don’t take issue with it. However, we would point out that crowds take seconds to form and seconds to disperse. They are composed of people, dynamic living beings capable of moving quickly. A person is not an ‘obstruction’. In addition, in the absence of any other legal remedy, the Council will sometimes ask the police to threaten arrest for ‘causing an obstruction’ when no actual obstruction is taking place. This kind of abuse of the law does not help build good relationships between street performers and the relevant authorities.


They say:

16. The entertainer must maintain public liability insurance covering any performance and must, if requested to do so by a Police Constable or Council Officer (or to an officer of the land owner if performing on private land), produce proof of such insurance.


We say:

Public liability insurance is a good idea. It is often included with membership of other groups like the Musician’s Union (a group which we would strongly advice any serious musical performer to join). Other performing groups like Equity offer access to public liability policies too, or they can be bought through a broker. However, whilst we recommend that performers do get public liability insurance, we also ask for a common sense approach here. Does a squeeze box player or an acoustic guitarist on a side street really need £5 million worth of public liability insurance before they be permitted to play in public? In this matter we feel that a distinction should be made between performers using more equipment and playing on more prominent pitches, and those who are not using much equipment and are playing in less prominent locations. We would hope that common sense would prevail at all times and that public liability insurance does not become an absolute requirement for street performance of all sorts.


They say:

17. Amplification

  1. Amplification of music or singing will be permitted, but not such where the volume gives rise to complaint; entertainment must not be audible beyond 30 metres of the performance above the normal level of street noise.
  2. Where amplifiers are allowed, they must be battery powered; mains or generator powered amplifiers are not permitted.

We say:

Amplification raises many issues and divides opinions. In our view, amplification is not the major issue. It is what is amplified that counts. We don’t believe that amps are the enemy – after all, there are plenty of louder unplugged instruments like bag-pipes, drums and saxophones. The principal issue here is that of consideration. Performers should take account of the time of day, the street setting and the nature of the surrounding businesses when setting volumes. However, we do not find a specified distance limit to be useful. 30m is an arbitrary specification. Sound travels differently according to wind direction, height of buildings and volume of people in the vicinity. An agreed upper decibel level would be more useful. Furthermore, we cannot state strongly enough how unrealistic it is for a local council not to receive complaints about performers, whether about the volume or some other, more subjective, feature of a performance. We therefore urge to council to strive for a fair balance between a small proportion of expressed complaints, and the unexpressed enjoyment of the overwhelming majority.

Summary of Major Objections

Summary of Major Objections

Photo: maistora.


We have one general and seven particular objections to Liverpool City Council’s new street performance policy.

In general, then, we object to the negative tone of the language used towards street performers throughout the minutes of the Cabinet Meeting where the new policy was put forward. For example:

At present street entertainment within the city centre can be intrusive to both businesses and residents alike. Street entertainers have in the past been accused of noise nuisance violations, repetitive performances, offensive/inappropriate behaviour and causing dangerous obstructions. There has been an increase in reports of abusive and offensive incidents which has caused alarm and distress to members of the general public and businesses within the city centre.

We believe this quote significantly overstates the issues that do arise from time to time from street performance, in order to provide a justification for the extensive and restrictive terms and conditions which Liverpool City Council are now requiring performers to sign up to.

Our seven particular objections to Liverpool City Council’s policy are as follows:

1. The policy uses coercive language and nebulous threats of prosecution for trespass in letters handed out to street artists and performers ahead of the new scheme, which needlessly intimidate vulnerable people and are exceptionally heavy handed. Since trespass is a civil, rather crimanal, offense, and requires material loss to be be proved,  legally highly questionable.

2. In extending enforcement powers to stop street performance on the smallest of pretexts, the policy risks turning those individual council officers and police into a poor man’s Simon Cowell in the sense that they can efectively prevent licensed performers from performing simply because they take an aesthetic dislike to your act or even to what you are wearing. 

3. The policy erroenously claims that “is illegal for persons under 18 to play, sing or perform in a street for money or monies worth”. In fact, the government’s own guidlines clearly state that “Children under 14 years may not busk”.

4. The policy is full of arbitrary specifications that make little sense. For instance: performers cannot occupy more then a 1.5m radius; sound must not be heard from more than 30m away; there can be no more than 5 people in a musical ensemble; signs must not be bigger than A4 in size; and no leaflets or demo CDs can be given away. The combined effect of all these sub-clauses is to grant officials of the council and enforcement officers due scope to endlessly chip away at performers and their ability to generate income by showcasing their talents.

5. The policy unnecessarily and arbitrarily limits the space wherein performances can take place, relegating street performance to a few officially sanctioned pitches, many of them in locations wholly unsuitable performance. Liverpool city centre has many natural pitches that performers are themselves accustomed for various reasons to performing upon: whether those reasons are acoustical, social or, indeed, economic. We favour dynamic rolling pitches with a recommendation for a 50m distance between noise-generating acts, with little restrictions on where ‘quiet’ acts like pavement artists can operate.

6. The policy requires performers to book with the council up to a week in advance to play for a maximum of two hours at any one pitch, turning what is often a spontaneous cultural event into a tightly controlled and highly limited activity. The policy is overly restrictive and needlessly bureaucratic. Street performance is, after all, a highly self-regulating business activity – those performers who are bad will not earn any money and quickly reconsider their act, whilst those who are good will flourish economically. The policy, furthermore, will make it much more difficult to make a living from street performance, thereby discouraging more accomplished acts from playing in Liverpool – the exact opposite result of the policy’s stated aims.

7. The policy discriminates against performers who use animals in their act. One owl-handler, who has a animal handling licence and £10 million worth of public liability insurance, and whose street act incorporates elements of educating people about birds of prey will be banned for no good reason.

We have gone into greater detail about specific articles of the policy in previous posts. In closing, it suffices to say that in a city which is known internationally and deservedly as a top destination for the arts and for its cultural life – as well as being the birthplace of the most renowned popular band of all time – Liverpool City Council’s new policy is a non-starter. We therefore respectfully ask Liverpool City Council to think again and come up with a policy that truly celebrates the vibrancy of street life without attempting to put street art and performance inside a tightly regulated box.