I’ve just been to see Councillor Gavin Barrie in my fight for the basic right to enjoy peace in my home.
He’s the chair of Edinburgh’s Licensing Committee and therefore the man able to do something about the burgeoning problem of amplified busking.
He opened the meeting by telling me off for likening Edinburgh City Council to the Stasi.
I was taken aback. I didn’t know how he could possibly have thought that I would ever dream of comparing his council to that sinister cell of state-sponsored assassins.
I was only wondering, in my article in ScotBuzz, whether a remark a Stasi officer had once made to me – that there’s free speech in our country because no one cares what we say – was applicable to Edinburgh.
And indeed this appears to be true, for when I decided I wasn’t going to be driven from my home by buskers without a fight, I discovered that community councils had been complaining about busking for years but the council itself had never listened to them.
But they started to listen when I wrote in ScotBuzz and my article led directly to my meeting.
After ticking me off, Councillor Barrie assured me, cheerfully, that the council wasn’t only listening, but acting!
Councillor Joanne Mowat, he told me, had already raised the issue of excessive noise in the Grassmarket in a motion at full Council and the administration had assured her that this would be dealt with by this summer.
But, he added, stopping me as I rose to go home, this raised strategic issues. My heart sank. ‘strategic’ and ‘issues’ were, in my experience, government-speak for writing reports but doing nothing.
‘If busking was restricted in the city centre, buskers would go to Stockbridge,’ Gavin explained. ‘And they wouldn’t put up with them there!’
‘So why should we?’ I asked. He had no reply to that, so I drove the point home by asking, ‘would you like buskers outside your house?’
‘They wouldn’t get much money,’ he quipped.
I didn’t say that I’d make it worthwhile for a busker to play outside his home at 8 at night and get a reporter and photographer to record the reaction. I wouldn’t stoop so low…yet.
Nor did he tell me the fact, revealed to me by Sarah Boyak MSP, that he’d supported the Raeburn Place Development, which will turn Stockbridge into another Grassmarket.
We watched each other for a moment in silence.
Then Gavin stated that if everyone were asked if they wanted buskers, no one would.
If that’s the case, I argued, then Edinburgh should follow the path of other great cultural cities, like Paris, Munich and Venice and ban busking altogether. Peace reigns in these places. The people should be listened to when they speak.
However, I added, I didn’t think everyone would complain. I thought there’d be enough spots in Edinburgh where people wouldn’t mind busking, though in many places this would need to be restricted to quieter music without amplification and for strictly limited periods.
Properly managed, Edinburgh could easily become a city that was vibrant and peaceful – a place for residents, workers and visitors alike.
Gavin agreed with me but insisted it would only be possible after a ‘strategic review’, which would take a year, if not more.
I didn’t see why any ‘review’ was necessary. The ‘issues’ were simple; the council and the Scottish Office had reams of policies on noise control, and there were excellent examples of good practice in other cities at home and abroad. All Edinburgh had to do was to get on with it.
Gavin just shrugged but assured me that he would do his best to alleviate our immediate problem by talking to the police to get them to take firmer action.
My heart sank. This showed how unaware he was of the problem. The police had already told me that they couldn’t do any more, which was why I was talking to him!
The police can’t stop a busker until they get a complaint. Then they can’t guarantee to attend in less than two hours by which time the busker has driven us mad with amplified wailing flooding all our rooms.
When the police eventually come and move him on, another busker arrives only to be complained about again, and moved on after two hours… and so it can go on and on, from midday to midnight, any fine day from Easter to Christmas, and intermittently through the winter. We’ve had busking, recently, at 11 at night.
Licensing busking and introducing strict codes of conduct is the only way to solve this problem. This has been tried and tested in Camden and Dublin. So why not in Edinburgh?
Gavin suggested that he could ask one of the community safety officers to look at the problem but I left the meeting, in truth, with nothing concrete in my hands, apart from good intentions.
But then the path to the hell that living in the Grassmarket has become was paved with good intentions.
That Stasi officer will remain right about Edinburgh City Council … until the Council proves him wrong not just by talking…but taking action.