Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a killjoy. I like personal artistic expression, even, sometimes, in the street.
But I also like peace and quiet and have the right to expect it in my own home.
We’ve lived happily in the Grassmarket for nearly thirty years, but the noise from busking has recently become so bad that unless something is done about it, we’re going to be driven out.
Busking, usually grotesquely amplified, now happens throughout the year but becomes frequent from Easter to late autumn, and continuous through the high summer, with individuals and bands often playing from midday till late at night.
And currently Edinburgh Council seems to welcomes this! It’s part of their plan to turn the whole city centre into a performance space, claiming, on shuggly grounds, that this is good for shopping.
Edinburgh, as a result, has become a magnet for talentless chancers licensed by the Council, in absentia, to make as much noise as they like.
And the pickings are good. A friend of mine who lives on the High Street complained to a busker that he was trying to work in the flat above. The busker offered to rent his place for £2000 for a month, for two people, which would let my friend move out.
In desperation he accepted, but when he popped back for something he found 12 buskers dossing there, one sleeping in his curtains.
People living and working in the city centre seem to have become paralysed in the face of this problem. They feel they’ve no right to quiet where they live and work.
How often have we been told that since we live in the Grassmarket we should accept noise from busking. We wouldn’t and don’t from a pub, club or neighbour, so why should we from the street?
When we went to complain to our local councillor, the mild mannered Alasdair Rankin, he told my wife and me that he’d felt tempted to throttle a busker playing outside his office on the High Street.
What’s surprising is that it hadn’t occurred to him that he held the solution in his own hands, without going to such extremes.
The Council could easily solve the problem. It’s just that officers claim it’s outside their remit. Scots law, they told me, doesn’t give public authorities the powers to deal with this issue.
But the Scottish Executive Noise Management Guide (2006) makes it clear that local authorities have all the powers they need to deal with this problem in any way they want.
The Police aren’t more effective, either. They accepted that controlling busking is currently their responsibility but they say they can only act when they get a complaint from the public.
And they say that busking can’t be a priority – they were sure I would understand – so they can only guarantee a response within two hours by which time the particular buskers have often moved on, and others taken their place.
And until these new buskers have been specifically complained about, the police can’t do anything about them, till two hours later… and so it goes on … and on … and on.
The poor residents and workers are being driven mad, left to complain to buskers themselves, who are becoming increasingly offensive and obdurate.
So, what can be done? A lot.
Other cultural cities like Paris, Venice and Munich, where the quality of life of residents and office workers still counts for something, have simply made busking illegal.
This draconian solution is unlikely in a city that hosts the Fringe and is the capital of a nation renowned for its pipers. But that doesn’t mean to say that the problem is unsolvable.
Other authorities licence busking very successfully, not to control taste, but to weed out chancers and introduce strict codes of practice.
Licensed buskers can be restricted to playing within set time periods, at acceptable levels of volume, and in specific, marked locations that have been agreed with occupants in the vicinity.
Edinburgh would do well to go a step further and audition buskers for a handful of these designated sites. The public would come to expect quality street entertainment in these locations.
In this way the city would become a launchpad for alternative careers, as London Transport and the Paris Metro have done. This auditioned programme would be ripe for sponsorship.
Licensing busking will help create the vibrant and peaceful city we would all like to see.
I have put these proposals to the relevant community councils and my local elected representatives, councillors Doran, Mowat and Rankin and to Councillor Barrie, Chair of Licensing.
I await their response, which I hope and pray comes this winter, when I can still hear myself think.