On November 11th Labour-Led Camden Council passed a resolution which criminalised the playing of music in ANY public space in the borough without first obtaining a licence. Under this contentious piece of legislation even singing in the street for fun, even without any container for donations, has become a criminal offence punishable by a £1000 fine, the seizure of instruments in the streets by force, and the sale of those instruments to pay the fine after 28 days.
Despite repeatedly being described by Councillor Abdul Hai, Cabinet Member for 'Community Safety' as 'light touch regulation' needed to deal with an escalation in noise complaints relating to buskers in Camden over the last year, this new policy actually makes Camden the most restrictive place in the UK for performances of music in shared public space. Even singing in the streets is potentially unlawful under this policy, with anyone who wishes to make music with more than one other person, or seeking to play a percussion or wind instument or use any amplifier is required to pay £47 and to wait 20 working days for a Council panel to decide whether they are a 'fit and proper person' to hold a licence. If licences are refused would-be performers have to appeal to a magistrates court in a mind-bogglingly expensive and bureaucratic process clearly designed to deter people from playing music in the streets.
My name is Jonny Walker. I am a Liverpool-born singer/songwriter, musician, a full-time street performer and the Founding Director of the Keep Streets Live Campaign. I have spent the last twelve years travelling the country as a wandering minstrel, playing music in the towns and cities of the UK and beyond. I have seen the power of informal, street-level performances of art and music to create a sense of colour, vibrancy and urban community at first-hand. I helped start the Keep Streets Live Campaign to protect and preserve informal community uses of public space, as it is now under threat.
Why We Need Your Help:
Sadly, Camden is not an isolated case. In recent years, many local authorities across the UK have introduced highly-restrictive policies and laws that criminalise street performance and threaten the future of shared public spaces that are open to the arts and music.
Why This Matters:
This draconian new law will do great damage to Camden's cultural and social well-being, it will scare and intimidate musicians away from the streets, and it will set an incredibly damaging precedent for towns and cities across the UK, if it goes unchallenged. It comes as a bitter blow at a time when many traditional venues for live music are closing down. The streets have become a vital and democratic forum for musicians to be heard, whether they are just starting out, gaining experience or actually making a living.
The Bigger Picture:
At the very time when our high streets need a helping hand to stay vital in the face of rapid social and economic changes which have seen record number of businesses close their doors forever, policies are being implemented that damage the communal lives of our towns and cities. Free street art and live music is one great way of keeping our high streets alive. It's more important than ever before that local authorities channel their limited resources to support and sustain creative and grassroots communities in our urban centres, instead of heavy handed and misguided clampdowns. By supporting this landmark campaign you will be helping to protect the cultural freedoms of our towns and cities and giving us the resources to work alongside local authorities in the future.
What We Are Doing About This:
I started this petition on behalf of the Keep Streets Live Campaign and made formal representations asking Camden Council to rethink their damaging plans. Our campaign arranged protest events which were supported by comedians Bill Bailey and Mark Thomas, and the musicians Billy Bragg and Jon Gomm amongst many others. We set up the Citizen's Kazoo Orchestra and the Church of the Holy Kazoo as a light-hearted rebellion against the irrational banning of wind instruments. I made presentations to the Cabinet, Licensing Committee and full Council. The Musician's Union released a statement nationally asking Camden Council to preserve their musical heritage and to abandon their contentious policy. Despite this chorus of constructive opposition the Council passed this policy into law in a narrow vote in November. Our options were running out so we contacted a leading Human Rights law firm Leigh Day who told us that this new law was so unfair and over the top that we had a good chance of challenging it in the High Courts. The Human Rights Act protects freedom of expression and this applies to performances of music as well as to speech and the written word. We now had the basis for a historic legal challenge. The High Court upheld Camden's policy so we have taken our case to the Court of Appeal and are continuing to raise funds for this challenge.
And, It Works!
Last year in Liverpool, a city synonymous with live music, I helped lead a campaign against a license scheme similar to Camden's which threatened street musicians with trespass prosecutions, banned under 18s from playing music and placed severe restrictions on the life of the streets. Our campaign was successful and the new law was overturned. We are now working with Liverpool Council and the Musician's Union to draw together a fair and open 'best practise guide' for street performing that balances the needs of all the users who share public spaces. Thank you to everyone who supported this campaign.
In York we set up a petition calling on the Council to scrap a highly restrictive license scheme and to make the streets more open. Again, as a direct result of our campaign, York's civic leaders made significant changes to their policy and invited musicians, street performers and other bodies to be part of an ongoing dialogue.
We are a growing community of artists, performers, musicians and people who value public spaces that are open to the arts. Even if you are unable to contribute financially at this time, we would still love for you to get involved. From handing out leaflets, gathering signatures, playing the kazoo at protests, performing pop-up gigs and helping us send out perks, there are lots of ways in which you can get stuck in and we are very open to suggestions. Join the Association of Street Artists and Performers for free here: http://streetslive.org/join
In a nutshell...
This is a landmark legal challenge which will set a precedent for the use of public space in the United Kingdom. Join with us as we seek to protect and preserve the ancient freedoms of the street and find creative ways to build urban community and to Keep Streets Live!
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In seeking to respond to complaints about noise from buskers, Camden have criminalised music making in public spaces unless a license is first obtained.
Whilst the license scheme is well-intentioned, the cost of obtaining a license, the many restrictions placed upon would-be performers and instrumentalists, and the draconian penalties proposed for non-compliance will have the presumably undesired effect of driving buskers out of Camden and to diminish ing the cultural life of the borough.
There is an alternative. Camden should look at examples of busking Best Practise in cities such as Cambridge, Bournemouth, Norwich, Edinburgh, York, Chester and Winchester to name but a few, where busking policies exist that promote cooperation between the users of shared public spaces, without the need for a compulsory licence scheme backed up by the threat of heavy fines and the confiscation of equipment. Camden should draw upon the expertise and experience of these cities, and professional bodies such as the Musician's Union as well as other interested parties to draw up a policy framework for street entertainment that works for the good of everyone.