New busking licence laws in Camden are a ‘breach of human rights’, claim protesters

Jonny Walker (centre), founder of the Association of Street Artists and Performers (ASAP!), leads a

Jonny Walker (centre), founder of the Association of Street Artists and Performers (ASAP!), leads a protest from buskers outside Camden Town Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock. - Credit: Archant

Camden Council is breaching human rights and criminalising singing in the street with controversial new rules on street entertainment, according to a prominent busking movement.

On Monday, the Labour-run council voted to introduce strict rules requiring buskers to purchase annual licences if they wish to perform on Camden’s streets.

The move follows increasing complaints about noise nuisance from residents living near to busking hotspots, such as Camden High Street in Camden Town.

Under the new rules, set to come into force in February, 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 will be banned.

Jonny Walker, founder of the Association of Street Artists and Performers (ASAP!), led protests outside the town hall before and after Monday’s council meeting.

He said: “This is the inappropriate use of state power to stifle freedom of expression. I think it has implications for the lawful use of public space. It is my suspicion that these rules are in conflict with the Human Rights Act.

“Busking is defined as ‘entertainment in the street’ so any sort of music is prohibited. Singing in the street has been outlawed.”

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The council is thought to be the only local authority in London besides Hillingdon Council to have introduced such busking laws, defined under the London Local Authorities Act 2000.

The council insists the regulations are necessary to tackle a surge in complaints from residents.

Between October 2012 and September 2013, the council received 100 noise complaints related to busking – up from an average of six to 12 annual complaints in previous years.

Many of the complaints were centred around Camden Town, but they were also lodged in Hampstead Town, Swiss Cottage and King’s Cross.

Camden Town resident Josie Kelly, who lives in Bayham Street, addressed Monday’s meeting alongside two other residents telling councillors: “Please vote to resolve this long-standing problem that has blighted the lives of many.”

The rules were passed by a margin of 25 votes to 17.

Cllr Abdul Hai, cabinet member for community safety, said: “Campaigners have been making a mountain out of a molehill suggesting that we are trying to outlaw busking.

“We’re simply implementing light touch regulation that will strike a balance between the rights of residents to a quiet life and buskers wishing to perform in public places.”

Mr Walker insists noise nuisance is a problem confined to a small number of “bad apples” within the busking community and that the council’s approach is heavy-handed and will stifle Camden’s musical spirit.

He added: “I think it will be incredibly damaging to Camden’s long-term reputation as a centre for creativity, culture and live music. It’s putting a sign up saying: ‘Creativity and spontaneity is not welcome here.’”

Mr Walker said ASAP! is getting legal advice on a potential challenge to the council’s decision and is encouraging buskers to boycott the new rules by taking to the streets for unlicensed busking.