COMMENT: Why I support Camden Council’s move to manage busking

Jessica Kranish.

Jessica Kranish. - Credit: Archant

Writer Jessica Kranish, a Camden Town resident, has welcomed Camden Council’s decision to enforce stricter rules on busking. She insists council action must be taken to stop noise from buskers ruining residents’ enjoyment of their homes and surroundings.

Imagine visiting Camden Town for the day. You could browse the market, maybe have a drink or two, and spend some time with friends. You might come across a busker and pause for a moment to listen. And when you’re done, you head home for some quiet.

But that option is not available to Camden residents like me. With loud buskers playing on our doorstep for hours, we’re a captive audience for whatever music buskers decide to force upon us on a particular day.

Camden Council, recognising this problem and its responsibility to address the issue, recently developed a policy to better manage problematic busking.

While the voices of busking lobbyists have been particularly loud, the chronic misrepresentation of the policy and of the problem that prompted its creation has meant the views of residents — those who the policy affects most — have sometimes been overlooked.

The word “busker” might bring to mind a benign figure playing a few songs on an acoustic guitar but the character of busking in Camden has changed. I’ve encountered eight-piece brass bands, deafening drums, and enormous amplifiers. The gig-level volume means residents like me can’t sleep, rest, work, read, open our windows, or go about any day-to-day activities while the disruption is going on. Buskers regularly perform in the same place for extremely long periods of time, often 10 or 11 hours.

The unfortunate reality is that Camden is saturated with buskers who simply don’t take into account the concerns of the people who live here.

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Camden Town, where I live, can be a noisy area. Residents of urban areas get used to ambient sounds from the street — such as cars passing — and tune them out. But it’s impossible to tune out 10 hours of loud music from a busker.

Camden is a borough of extremes. Many residents live in social housing or receive housing benefit, and don’t have the ability to move. No matter why residents live here, we should be entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of our own homes.

Residents don’t want to banish music from the borough. I love music and I play guitar myself. We simply want the choice to decide what sort of music we want to listen to — where and when. With the borough’s many music venues, we’re spoiled for choice. I’d like to examine some of the untruths that have sprung up around this policy in comparison with the hard facts available.

Myth: Camden’s policy bans busking.

Fact: Camden’s policy encourages responsible busking. Licensed buskers can perform 11 hours per day, 365 days per year; busking is permitted across the entire borough. (In contrast, Hillingdon Council only allows buskers to perform during two two-hour time slots at four distinct locations.)

Myth: Camden’s policy violates buskers’ human rights — particularly, their right to freedom of expression.

Fact: Freedom of expression is a qualified right, not an absolute right. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights notes that this right “carries with it duties and responsibilities”, so conditions may be imposed for reasons including “the protection of the... rights of others”. Buskers regularly violate residents’ right to the quiet enjoyment of their homes. Even without these restrictions, the policy does not violate buskers’ freedom of expression, as it does not ban busking but allows responsible busking to flourish.

Myth: Existing powers already allow Camden to manage problematic busking.

Fact: Both local police and Camden officials have made clear that no powers currently exist that allow Camden to effectively manage busking.

Myth: Buskers can self-regulate - with a voluntary code of conduct, for instance.

Fact: In effect, Camden has already tried self-regulation since up to now there haven’t been restrictions on busking. But loud and prolonged busking persists. A code of conduct would merely be a list of common sense rules. If buskers weren’t considerate enough to use common sense before, why would they now?

Myth: Play music on the streets of Camden and you’ll be subject to a £1,000 fine and the seizure of your instruments.

Fact: This sort of punishment is a last resort for repeat offenders. The policy encourages officers to offer advice in the first instance; officers should also consider factors like the nature of the infringement when determining what to do.

With the city noise that already exists in Camden, it’s all the more important that our local authority protects the limited amount of peace and quiet that residents have.