If you were to paint a picture of the landscape of music venues across the UK within the last decade, it would be a pretty bleak one. London alone has lost over 35% of its grassroots music venues since 2007, with the number of spaces programming new artists dropping from 136 to just 88 (as of late 2015). The situation is almost like an economic equivalent to Dorian Gray and his mirror: a particular area code becomes more desirable, while the people and venues that helped establish it in the first place pay the price.
We've seen beloved venues like the Marquee Club, the Astoria, the 12 Bar Club, Madame Jojo's, and Power Lunches disappear from the cultural map, victim to either spiking rent prices, residential complaints, or pressure from property developers, with many more on the brink of closure. One of the most fatal amd common problems is nearby properties suddenly being developed into residential properties, and then said residents complaining about the music venues existence. Just recently, Peckham's Bussey Building came under threat thanks to a proposed development of luxury flats. It's a similar situation across the country; Cardiff lost Barfly and The Point, Leeds lost The Cockpit, the Roadhouse in Manchester is now gone, as is the Arches in Glasgow. Today, however, things might finally be taking a turn in the right direction.
Following a meeting with Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government, alongside Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey MP, new government legislation will be implemented to protect music venues in planning law. From 6 April 2016, local planning authorities will have to consider existing noise impacts on new residents from existing businesses under an amended permitted development right.
In a Facebook post this morning, Music Venue Trust explained: "Permitted development rights have been extended in recent years and allow certain developments to take place without the need to go through the full planning system. The new regulations mean developers are now required to seek prior approval on noise impacts before a change of use from an office to residential building can be carried out. In short - you can't change offices to flats any more if a music venue is nearby, developers will need to work with the local authority and the music venue to ensure that live music is protected."
The proposals don't go as far as a full Agent of Change law fo rmusic venues, which would put the onus on developers to mitigate potential future conflicts between new developments and long-standing live venues. However, it's still a huge breakthrough. Boris Johnson threw his weight behind the campaign to halt the drop in the number of music venues in the capital last year, setting up the Mayor's Music Venues Taskforce – chaired by the Music Venue Trust – to undertake an audit of grassroots music venues. The report suggested that whilst London's music is generating billions for the economy, a vital part of this important cultural as well as economic sector is under threat. Although this new legislation doesn't seem likely to affect developments who have already gone through planning, it should provide a net of support for new venues.
Speaking to Noisey, Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, said: "Obviously this is a huge victory. We've been campaigning around Agent of Change and a serious of other measures required to prevent venue closures for just under 18 months, and we are now starting to see real recognition in UK law of how important these venues are as cultural spaces. There's still a lot more to do to ensure we continue to protect and secure these venues, and the ultimate aim must be to make sure that artists and audiences in the UK have access to the best music venues in the world. We are working with Arts Council England and Help Musicians UK to look at a programme that improves venues, as well as continuing to press UK government for law changes that properly recognise the value of these places. In London we have a commitment from the main mayoral candidates to deliver on the recent Mayor's report, and we are now pushing those plans across the UK, asking other local authorities to really get behind their local venue, support it and protect it."
The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) Order 2016 was presented to Parliament on March 11 2016 and will come into effect from the April 6 2016. The new regulations can be found here.
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