Busking brings Bath Abbey to breaking point.

Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey

The Rector of Bath Abbey has declared enough is enough as far as amplified music and buskers is concerned.

In a new move B&NES could soon be banning all amplification in the immediate vicinity of the Abbey.

Just a couple of days ago the church was forced to abandon an afternoon service being attended by over 200 people because of the noise from outside.

The Reverend Prebendary Edward Mason told the Virtual Museum:

‘The loud music from the buskers started just after our 3.30pm Choral Evensong service began and was clearly audible during the Bible reading. It was impossible to continue.

The Bible reading talked quite clearly of the responsibility of leaders to care for those in their charge. I must take this seriously. Hundreds, even thousands in Bath, have their peace, prayer and remembrance blighted by buskers on a daily basis.’

The Rector said this wasn’t a on- off incident either.

‘Over the last two to three years, we have really tried. We have met with the buskers

Bath Abbey
Bath Abbey

often, mostly at their meeting every day. We know many by name and have tried to build relationships based on trust.

Together with the buskers, we have tried to establish a ‘traffic-light’ system with ‘reds’ indicating worship and ‘greens’ when noise is less of a problem, the majority are happy to keep to this.

Although it’s a minority of buskers who deliberately flout this, it’s a very loud and unreasonable minority who ruin it for everyone. Over the last couple of years, amplifiers are used more and more, the volume has increased and we are now at crisis point.’

Prebendary Mason said the Abbey had suffered long enough – at times it has been impossible for work to continue.

‘We have had weddings and funerals disrupted and choir practices and services ruined on numerous occasions, not just yesterday afternoon for the 150-200 people in the Abbey who were there for the peace and solace of Choral Evensong.

It gets very busy and noisy in Abbey Churchyard.
It gets very busy and noisy in Abbey Churchyard.

The intrusive and escalating noise of the buskers is a city-wide issue – not just the Abbey’s. It’s a deep concern for the whole of Bath.

Bath and North East Council has taken a ‘permissive approach’ and this has meant that the whole of Bath city-centre is plagued from April to October by street music, without limit to the number of pitches, no limit to the noise, no control whatsoever.

The central aisle inside Bath Abbey
The central aisle inside Bath Abbey

The Council Officers have always been courteous but they are under-staffed and say that the law can do nothing to protect us.

A new anti-social behaviour law, enacted in March and coming in to force in October, may give the Council powers to ban amplification in certain areas. These areas will have to be agreed by the local council following public consultation.

How do I feel? I feel like weeping. Truly. Weeping for a city ruined by the clamour of music. Weeping for choirs that are victims. Weeping for my staff subjected to music every day.

Weeping that we human beings just cannot resolve conflict. (Let’s not look at Syrians and condemn them when we can’t even sort out music amicably!) Weeping for an Abbey that has had a superb ministry of peace, healing and quiet for hundreds of years and which is being subject to the violence of noise.

Next week the funeral of teenager Sammuel Amin will be held in the Abbey. We just hope that it isn’t ruined for his family, friends and the hundreds coming to pay their respects. Why is this something we need to even be worrying about?

“Please pray for us as we try to resolve this issue.’

Bath and North East Somerset Council has released the following statement:

‘The Council has been committed to achieving a balance where busking can continue to bring vibrancy to the city centre of Bath without impacting detrimentally on businesses, organisations and residents located close to the busking pitches.

Council officers have been proactivity monitoring in the vicinity of the Abbey following concerns being raised, and have held a number of meetings with the Abbey to resolve the situation.

An innovative “traffic light” system has been developed, in partnership with the buskers, which the vast majority of buskers adhere to – which is designed to reduce the impact at sensitive times – particularly when services are taking place.

The Council is able to take action under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 if the busker is causing a statutory noise nuisance. To do this the Council has to collect evidence of an on-going pattern of serious noise disturbances which are materially interfering with the enjoyment of someone’s property. Noise abatement notices have been served on buskers by the Council in the past when all other interventions have not been complied with.

The Council is in the process of contacting the Abbey after receiving a complaint yesterday afternoon and will be investigating further.

Cllr David Dixon
Cllr David Dixon

Cllr David Dixon (Lib-Dem, Oldfield), Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, said: “Clearly the powers previously offered to local authorities have not been effective enough to deal with this type of nuisance. Therefore, under new powers provided by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, we will be looking to ban all amplification within the immediate vicinity of Bath Abbey.’

The Virtual Museum has also found a website for Bath Buskers which lists a ‘Code of Practice.’

Codes numbers 1 and 2 deal with noise levels.

‘1. Noise (for example music and voice) should not be so loud that it can plainly be heard at a distance of 50 metres. Busking must not be intrusive or a nuisance to nearby premises.
2. Quiet amplification is permitted.
’

Not quite sure what ‘quiet amplification’ is but l will be getting some comments from the buskers soon.

Comment has come quickly. An email from Jez Broun – musician and busker and the the man responsible for the Bath Buskers Guide. He told the Virtual Museum:

‘ I am as appalled and frustrated by this as Rector Edward Mason and spoke on Radio Bristol a few minutes ago. I was a buskers rep and the person responsible for the Bath Buskers Guide. The rules are very clear. I hope we can get round the table and discuss this and urge the Council to either regulate busking now or enforce noise abuse issues. The Rector is absolutely right and the Council has been too liberal. It should be workable without banning amplifiers completely. It is about noise levels.’

And as far as my comment about the level of amplification given in the Code, Jez says:

‘Quiet amplification is what it says – the volume knob is turned down as some instruments cannot be heard. There could be a limit on the wattage of the amplifier which generally relates to its loudness. Banning them completely in effect bans responsible buskers like myself who need an
amplifier for backing tracks which are a legitimate part of a musical performance. Noise levels can be accurately monitored.’