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Council fights off High Court bid to derail busking licensing scheme

The London Borough of Camden has successfully fought off a High Court challenge to its proposed regime for the licensing of busking.

Following a two-day hearing last month, Mrs Justice Patterson has now ruled that the introduction of the scheme was lawful.

The judge said: “The defendant [the council] has adopted a policy which, in my judgement, is both necessary and a proportionate response to the issue of busking.

“It has striven to introduce a policy which holds the ring between promoting economic growth through fostering dynamic busking activity across the borough but balancing that with the requirements of its residents and other economic activity which contributes to the well being of Camden. It has done so in a way which, in my judgement, is lawful.”

The Keep Streets Live Campaign, which brought the challenge, has already said it plans to take the case to the Court of Appeal.

The key features of the policy – adopted last November by Camden under Part V of the Local Authorities Act 2000 – were:

  • It will apply to the whole of Camden and to the provision of all entertainment in a street within the borough;
  • Standards will be set through a voluntary Code of Conduct with which all buskers are expected to comply;
  • Where the entertainment includes music or the use of amplifiers, a busking licence will be required – except where the entertainment falls within a class of entertainment which is excluded from this requirement;
  • Two types of licence can be issued: a standard busking licence and a special busking licence;
  • The standard licence will be subject to the council’s standard conditions. “These conditions include restrictions in respect of permitted times of 10 am to 9 pm, certain types of instruments such as drums and wind instruments, and amplification. Standard licences can only be used by solo or duo performers”;
  • A special busking licence will be required for busking within Camden where a performer seeks to amend or vary the conditions.

The lawyers for the Keep Streets Live Campaign, Leigh Day, had claimed that the definition of busking in Camden’s scheme was not sufficiently clear.

They also argued that there was insufficient evidence to cross the threshold in s. 33(2) of the 2000 Act.

Rosa Curling, a lawyer in the Human Rights team at Leigh Day, who is representing Keep Streets Live Campaign said: “We will now seek permission to take this decision to the Court of Appeal. The council's draconian licensing policy is unnecessary, unlawful and threatens the very essence of what makes Camden such an important cultural space.”

Jonny Walker, Founding Director of Keep Streets Live Campaign Limited, said: “We continue to believe that the scheme proposed by the council is too wide in its definition of busking and that it has been introduced in response to inadequate evidence to apply across the entire geographical area of the borough.”

He added: “We also remain firm in the belief that it is disproportionate for the purposes of the Human Rights Act by interfering with the right to freedom of expression.

“Informal and spontaneous performances of music are a vital part of Camden's rich and diverse cultural heritage and need to be protected.”

Camden said the introduction of the new policy came after an increased number of noise complaints from residents about the use of amplified musical equipment and percussion instruments by street entertainers, particularly buskers, close to residential areas and often late into the evening.

It said it would now press ahead with introduction of the regime. Performers wishing to apply for a licence will be able to do so from 24 March 2014.
 
The council said: “The policy does not seek to prevent busking but applies ‘light touch regulation’ which will limit the use of these types of equipment and instruments, striking a balance between the right of residents to peace and quiet and those wishing to use public spaces to perform.”
 
Cllr Maryam Eslamdoust, chair of Camden Council’s Licensing Committee, said: “I am pleased with the judgement handed down by the High Court. This demonstrates that our thorough consultation and adaptations made to the policy in light of feedback from groups means that we can introduce light touch regulation. This will benefit not just residents who have suffered ongoing noise nuisance but it will improve the street scene for businesses and visitors.”

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