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Protect Spontaneous Street Culture - Say no to Durham's coercive X-factor busking permit

This petition had 1,251 supporters

Durham County Council and a business lobby group called Durham Business Improvement District (BID) have launched an ill-judged attack on the long-standing tradition of spontaneous busking in this beautiful, ancient cathedral city. From August 19th, would-be performers will have to face an X-factor style panel comprised of BID and council officials, Police officers from Durham constabulary and members of the public to have a chance of obtaining a 6 month permit to busk in the city. Performers who are deemed not good enough by this unqualified panel of self-appointed civic Simon Cowells will be turned away from the city. 

Busking is a British cultural tradition which consists of informal and impromptu performances of art and music on the streets and public spaces of our towns and cities. Its essence is democratic and spontaneous, anybody can set up and busk, regardless of ability and the public can freely decide whether or not to make a donation or to walk on by on the other side. Music legends like Rod Stewart and Ed Sheehan began their careers as buskers and the streets provide an invaluable forum for artists to learn their craft and to improve as musicians. Being told you are not good enough by a panel of people comprised of BID officials, council bureaucrats and police officers before you have even started could have a devastating effect on the confidence of young artists just starting out. In addition, there are a wide range of existing laws that can be used if buskers cause an obstruction or noise nuisance without the need for costly pre-emptive controls/auditions and licensing schemes. It is also highly likely that Durham's restrictive busking regime represents an infringement of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act which protects Freedom of Expression making it vulnerable to a legal challenge.

At a time when police and council budgets are under severe pressure it is an indefensible use of public money to use police officers and council officials as a poor man's Simon Cowell, judging ill-conceived public talent shows and catching 'unlicensed' buskers, instead of fighting crime and keeping people safe. Requiring buskers to attend sporadically held auditions for licenses will deter many talented artists and musicians from visiting Durham and have a damaging effect upon the cultural life of the city. It suggests that Durham County Council and the BID are prepared to sacrifice the vibrant street culture which is an established part of Durham's visitor offer in a misguided attempt to deal with a small minority of inconsiderate buskers.

My name is Jonny Walker and I am the founder and director of the Keep Streets Live Campaign, a not for profit organisation which advocates for public spaces which are open to informal offerings of art and music. I first became a busker as a Politics undergraduate at Durham University when I went out on the streets one evening and did a spontaneous street gig on my guitar. I went on to become a professional musician, but had a scheme like this been in place then, I might never had the chance. We have campaigned against restrictive busking schemes in Liverpool, York, Chester, Canterbury, Birmingham, Bath and Oxford and seen them overturned. We have worked alongside local authorities and professional bodies such as the Musician's Union and Equity to introduce a Best Practise Guide for busking (Such as this one in York) which protects spontaneity and doesn't require licenses or auditions, but DOES promote good relationships between buskers and those with whom they share the streets.

We call upon Durham BID and Durham County Council to abandon their X-factor busking license and to work alongside local buskers, the Musician's Union, Equity and the Keep Streets Live Campaign to introduce a Best Practise Guide for busking which promotes good relationships between local businesses and buskers, has the tools to deal with the minority who cause issues and protects Durham's hard won reputation as a city with a vibrant and welcoming street culture scene.


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