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Boris Johnson backs Camden buskers opposed to controversial council licensing laws

Boris Johnson launching the #BackBusking campaign at St Pancras International station. Picture: Polly Hancock. Boris Johnson launching the #BackBusking campaign at St Pancras International station. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014
10:57 AM

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has backed buskers in Camden campaigning for greater freedom to perform following Camden Council’s decision to license street entertainment.

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Boris Johnson talks to Camden busker Jonny Walker. Picture: Polly Hancock.Boris Johnson talks to Camden busker Jonny Walker. Picture: Polly Hancock.

The mayor launched his #BackBusking campaign this morning at St Pancras International station, in Euston Road, King’s Cross, in support of musicians playing in high streets, town centres and public spaces across the capital.

It follows Camden Council’s decision in November to introduce strict rules requiring buskers to purchase annual licences if they wish to perform on Camden’s streets, in light of increasing complaints about noise nuisance from residents living near to busking hotspots.

The campaign, highlighting the mayor’s concern that “increasing red tape” could lead to some parts of London becoming “no-go areas for buskers”, is being viewed as a clear criticism of Camden’s controversial busking policy.

City Hall claims music tourists contribute almost £600million to London’s economy each year.

Asked for his views on Camden’s new policy, Mr Johnson said: “Buskers are the equivalent of yeast in the digestive system for whatever it is that makes culture wonderful.

“Councils do have a duty to try and protect their residents from noise and nuisance so there’s got to be give and take.

“Some councils are a little more rigid than we think they perhaps should be. All we are saying is give peace a chance.

“What we want to do is see if we can bring people together and sort out any problems.”

As part of the #BackBusking campaign, a taskforce has been set up to develop a pan-London busking policy aimed at making the capital the “most busker friendly city in the world”.

Camden busker Jonny Walker, founding director of pro-busking group Keep Streets Live!, is a member of the new taskforce.

He said: “I often don’t see eye-to-eye with Boris on lots of issues but I think on this one he’s right. It’s an obvious endorsement of the view a vibrant busking culture is a good thing for the life of the city.

“We look forward to playing our part in making sure the #BackBusking campaign is a resounding success.”

Busker and stand-up comedian Ben Van der Velde, a candidate for Camden Green Party in May’s local election, said: “Boris makes an unusual bedfellow for the Green Party and myself. I very much support what he is saying.

“Anyone who is supportive of creativity and spontaneity in public spaces is always going to be on my side of the argument. Camden have more than adequate powers to regulate busking and they seem to want to over-regulate.”

Under the new rules, which came into force on March 24, anyone caught busking without a licence could be fined up to £1,000 and have their instruments confiscated. The use of amplifiers and wind instruments requires a special licence.

This morning, Mr Johnson met Kilburn-based band, The King’s Parade, who won the Eurostar prize at last year’s Gigs competition and travelled to Paris to busk in the French capital after meeting the mayor.

Gigs is the annual competition organised by the mayor, which sees hundreds of young musicians performing throughout the summer on the Tube, at railway stations and venues such as St Paul’s Cathedral and the O2.

Cllr Abdul Hai, Camden’s cabinet member for community safety, said: “It’s surprising to see the mayor take such an interest in busking and regulation at this time given his previous refusal to comment on our scheme when questioned by our own local newspapers.

“In line with the mayor’s own London Plan, consultation allowed residents, businesses and street entertainers to become actively engaged in shaping their local areas.

“Camden has sought to strike a balance between the rights of performers to use public spaces and the right of residents to a quality of life free from noise nuisance.”

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