Stricter St Albans busking rules a possibility after noise complaints

A busker in St Albans.

A busker in St Albans. - Credit: Archant

New busking codes of conduct could be imposed in St Albans following complaints some musicians are too loud for offices to work during the summer.

Problems arise when full bands with amplifiers play a small repertoire of songs on repeat for hours, just outside city centre offices.

Management consultancy Hartley McMaster Ltd, which is based in St Peter’s Street, even considered ending their lease in the wake of last summer’s disruption.

Managing director Martin Slaughter said he understands music adds ambience to the city centre and has no problem with acoustic instruments, but louder music prevents his employees from answering calls, and he has had to let staff work from home to be more productive.

He said they were not killjoys and agreed buskers were “jolly” while shopping, but explained: “Over the last two or three years there have been an increasing number of people who come and busk using amplified music, and we don’t want to be miserable, we understand it adds to the ambience [of shopping], but they are so loud that really we can’t use our office to make phone calls, even in the back of the building - we can hear it as though they are inside the room.”

Martin emphasised that most buskers are considerate, but it is a minority who are causing the problem.

He added: “It’s not just us, I have spoken to people in local business and shops and I know that a number of them have also contacted the district council - I am delighted they are looking into the options.

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“I don’t want music to stop in St Albans, but it’s all about getting a balance struck.”

SADC officers agreed to draw up a report on a possible new code of practice at a recent meeting of the licensing and regulatory committee.

Cllr Alex Campbell has been speaking with complainants: “I think it’s a nuisance, but the problem is it is difficult to enforce and control.

“Whilst we don’t want to stop music, amplifying music in the centre and carrying on for a long time, say six hours, is a problem - and the offices are getting outraged about it.”

One busker, a retired teacher who has been performing in St Albans for 30 years, and is known as Breezy, said he is not surprised by the restrictions.

“A real busker plays so he can’t be heard more than five yards away in either direction, but now you’re getting young people coming in, and I think they think they have to impose themselves on the public - I believe that a busker should be able to draw people in to them without amplifiers.”

But fellow busker Sarah-Jane Eyles disagreed: “Covent Garden has a code of conduct where you can’t be heard 50 metres away, I think that’s quite reasonable and we can’t play before a certain time and after a time, which is all reasonable.

“But I can see why it could be a problem in St Albans because it’s a quiet place - but banning amplifiers in my view isn’t great.”

She said it would considerably reduce a buskers’ profit and viability of the whole city centre, adding: “I think it should be more to do with quality control more than anything.”

Sarah-Jane, who has been busking in Covent Garden since she was 16, said if the code of conduct drawn up by SADC was voluntary, she would ignore it, and if it were compulsory, she would not work this area.

A voluntary code in London, The Buskers’ Code, has been developed by the Busking Taskforce - made up of performers, residents, businesses, councils, the police, Transport for London and Network Rail.

It states sound should be just above background noise and music should not be repeated in the same location.

In some areas, such as the London Borough of Camden, the Tube, and The Southbank Centre, performers require licenses to busk.