On 22 September, the Western Daily Press reported that “[w]orshippers at Bath Abbey had to abandon their choral evensong service last night – because the dulcet tones of the choirboys were being drowned out by the noise of buskers outside.” Neighbourhood noise is a potentially contentious area and is covered by number of environmental provisions , some of which are available to individual complainants although the Environmental Protection Officer is generally the first port of call. In this case, however, legislation brought in through the much maligned “ASBO Bill” may provide a more effective solution than the more traditional approaches based upon statutory- or common law nuisance.
Busking and other forms of street entertainment are regarded by many as part of “’the Bath experience’ creating an enhanced atmosphere and providing pleasure to many people, both local residents and visitors”. Supported by the Avon & Somerset Police, Bath Abbey, Bath & North East Somerset Council and the Bath Business Improvement District, a voluntary Code of Practice has been drawn up, which states:
- Noise (music & voice) should not be heard beyond 50 metres nor be a nuisance to nearby premises.
- Responsible use of amplification is tolerated by the Council, but if abused all equipment can be confiscated.
- An entertainer can perform at a pitch for one hour but not return for two hours. Noisy entertainers (e.g. drums, bagpipes) half an hour.
- Entertainers should not obstruct the highway and ensure their audiences do not either. Circus acts must take great care not to put the public at risk of injury.
- An entertainer should not perform within 50 metres of another entertainer. (Please observe Big Issue pitches).
- Entertainment is permitted between 10am and 8pm (until 10pm in July & August).
- Entertainers should not cause offence or distress to the public and are asked to show consideration to shops avoiding obstructing goods and fire exits. This also applies to constantly repeated repertoires.
- Entertainers should not ask for money but can accept donations.
From the various reports of the incident, it appears as though the use of amplifiers by street buskers &c is an increasing problem, although their excessive use is restricted to two or three performers. The Rector of the Abbey, Rev Edward Mason, is quoted as saying that he did not want to see buskers banned, but noted that loud amplification not allowed in certain spots close to the abbey: in York, a similar measure has been introduced around the Minster. However, unlike York, the relatively small area in front of the West Door of the Abbey is surrounded by buildings, thus exacerbating the problem of noise. It is also a favoured pitch for buskers partly on account of the acoustics but mainly since it provides a focus for tourists.
During the passage of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, (the “ASBO Bill”), the original wording caused considerable concern to some religious organisations worried that it such activities as street preaching would be banned if there were complaints. The Salvation Army, in particular, with its tradition of open-air singing and brass bands, thought that its activities might be curtailed. Other potentially affected groups that were identified by Lord Dear include:
“those who seek to protest peacefully, noisy children in the street, street preachers, canvassers, carol singers, trick-or-treaters, church bell ringers, clay pigeon shooters and nudists, [HL 8 Jan 2014 : Col. 1515]”.
However, a little lateral thinking might have suggested that the Act could also be applied in cases such as that in Bath, a remedy that is being considered by local councillors, as well as the banning of amplified music in this area.
Reports vary as to the intrusive nature of the sound in this particular instance, but clearly there is a general problem in Bath which has yet to be addressed effectively. From a chorister’s point of view, there were concerns that our concert in Bayeux Cathedral this summer would be drowned out by the impressive high-tech Les lumières de la liberté of images, sound and light around the 1797 Tree of Liberty immediately outside. However, the Norman-Romanesque architecture proved less of a challenge than singing against Aristide Cavaillé-Coll’s L’orgue de tribune and we were grateful of his equally magnificent, but more appropriate, L’orgue de Chœur.
 D N Pocklington, The Law of Waste Management, (2nd Edn, Sweet & Maxwell, 2011), Chapter 11.