Live events sector
On the back of a private members bill which almost certainly failed to have reached the statute books, the UK government has agreed is to write the “agent-of-change” principle into planning law, in an announcement welcomed as a “seismic victory” for music venues by UK Music chief executuve Michael Dugher. Its a major triumph for the live sector and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid MP confirmed that the National Planning Policy Framework, with which local authorities are legally bound to comply, will be amended to include “detailed reference” to agent of change, making housing developers building new homes near exisiting UK venues responsible for addressing noise issues. Javid said: “Music venues play a vital role in our communities, bringing people together and contributing to the local economy and supporting the country’s grassroots music culture. I have always thought it unfair that the burden is on long-standing music venues to solve noise issues when property developers choose to build nearby. That’s why I consulted on this in February last year as part of the housing white paper” adding “I am pleased to finally have an opportunity to right this wrong and also give more peace of mind to new residents moving into local properties.”
The music community had been increasingly vocal about the need yo incorporate the agent of change incorporated into planning rules and the Music Venue Trust, the Musicians’ Union and UK Music have all lobbied on the issue. Progress was made last year with the principle being discussed in Parliament, government confirming it was investigating the matter, and London mayor Sadiq Khan incorporating it into his plans in the capital.
UK law at the moment says that the person who creates a nuisance is always responsible for the nuisance. This has a considerable impact on UK live music. where new houses are being built near a live music venue new residents would complain about the noise from existing venue and almost always force the closure of the venue. In 2004 Brighton’s Blind Tiger Club was forced to shut after a resident in the flat above the club complained about the noise.
The problem was highlighted in the case between between the Ministry Of Sound nigh club in London’s Elephant & Castle and property company Oakmayne, which wanted to build a new block of flats opposite the club – and the Club was concerned that that complaints from new residents could impact on the venue’s licence and future ability to trade. Following a lengthy legal battle, the club and property firm reached a settlement brokered by then London Mayor Boris Johnson. Many grassroots music venues rarely have the time, resources or budget required to battle developers, residents or to pay for costly sound proofing to be put into their venue or residential buildings.
Under the agent of change principle, because the business behind the new houses is creating a change, the business would be responsible for paying for the soundproofing. On the flipside, if a new music venue wanted to set up in a residential area, the venue would be responsible for the newly required soundproofing.
The final impetus for the change was the ‘ten-minute bill’ by John Spellar MP, backed by industry associations including UK Music and Music Venue Trust. Spellar said: “I am delighted that the Government have listened to grassroots venues and campaigners that have supported the safeguards contained in my Planning (Agent of Change) Bill. This announcement is fantastic news. While we need to iron out the final details when considering the draft framework, there is a real hope that these new provisions could be law by the summer.”
The Ministry Of Housing, Communities & Local Government have now stated: “Housing developers building new homes near music venues should be responsible for addressing noise issues in a move to protect both music venues and their neighbours”. To that end, it added, “The National Planning Policy Framework, which local authorities are legally bound to comply with, will now be clarified to include detailed reference to the ‘agent of change’ principle, and will be consulted on in spring”.
UK Music boss Michael Dugher said: “This is a seismic victory for all those who fought so hard to safeguard the future of music venues across the UK – from grassroots community activists to Britain’s global music stars who have spent years calling for agent of change and recently supported the Spellar Bill”.
Dave Webster, the Musicians’ Union’s National Organiser For Live Performance, added: “This is welcome news and we are pleased that the government has listened to the music industry. The pledge to strengthen the National Planning Policy Framework will give Musicians’ Union members places to play and audiences to support them, and give venues the protection they so desperately need”.
And finally, the Music Venue Trust stated: “Following the huge support for John Spellar MP’s private members bill, Music Venue Trust warmly welcomes this move by the government to adopt agent of change. Too many of our music venues have been lost to poor developments that haven’t recognised the cultural importance of grassroots music venues”.