Peace at last? Camden introduces busker licences in bid to deter late-night noise
Buskers caught playing without a licence could soon be fined up to £1,000
Paul Gallagher is a reporter for the Independent and Independent on Sunday having joined the group in 2012. He has previously worked for the European Voice, Daily Mirror and the Observer and been based in Brussels, Belfast, Tokyo and London.
Friday 15 November 2013
Its residents have been described as "suffering hell" at the hands of buskers but the atmosphere in Camden could almost be described as heavenly on Thursday as street musicians serenaded shoppers.
Some were still unaware that the council had this week introduced legislation meaning buskers caught playing without a licence could soon be fined up to £1,000.
"That's the first I've ever heard of it," said singer-songwriter Tom Dibb, playing original numbers just outside the underground exit. "Street performers can be a nuisance but I don't think it's necessary to have a licence, but the cost doesn't sound too steep. I think it could even improve the level of performance in a positive way."
Teenage American student Charlie Ebert had just set up outside Camden Lock when the Independent arrived and was clearly against the new law. "Camden is all about busking and shopping. There's a real DIY culture here and I think it's gonna put people off performing. I wouldn't come back here if I had to have a licence."
High-profile protests from musician Billy Bragg and comedian Mark Thomas failed to persuade Camden councillors to vote against the proposal and buskers must from February pay £19 for an annual licence if they want to perform in the area.
The Labour-led authority voted by 26 to 17 on Monday to adopt a section of the London Local Authorities Act 2000 enabling the council to licence busking. The policy bans amplified music and sets a 9pm cut-off time.
Labour councillor Abdul Hai, responsible for community safety, was confronted by protesters after Monday's vote. He said: "Campaigners against this new policy have been making a mountain out of a molehill suggesting that we are trying to outlaw busking. I can categorically say this is not what this policy seeks to achieve. This light touch regulation will restrict the use of amplified equipment.
"The idea people singing on the street should be worried is ridiculous. It's like the policy we have to stop gangs, that doesn't affect people meeting for good reason, the police only enforce it when there's trouble."
Lib Dem councillor Chris Naylor voted in favour of the law "because residents have been suffering hell - loud, intrusive, late-night noise."
Roy Walker, who has lived close to Camden High Street for 55 years and is one of dozens of people who have complained to the council about buskers, agreed after he said the musicians failed to compromise. He told the Camden New Journal: "We and the council tried everything else. The small buskers will have a chance now, because they won't be drowned out by amps and big bands. My own flat had such a noise problem that I couldn't hold a conversation. I'm looking forward to my first night's sleep, so are many of us."
More than 4,500 people have so far signed a petition on Change.org stating that "street culture in Camden is under imminent and real threat". They are hoping to force a similar u-turn that Liverpool City Council performed after it tried to enforce a similar policy. Liverpool reviewed it in 2012 after campaigners applied for a High Court injunction barring its enforcement.
Italian musicians Stefano Derada and Gianluca 'Perry' Perotta carried on regardless on the bridge over Camden High Street last Thursday night.
"It's a bit shit," said Stefano, on his day off from working in Subway. "But if we have to get a licence we will," he added before the pair broke into an acoustic version of AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long.
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