Agent of change principle applied as court overturns noise abatement order

May 2020

PLANNING: A long standing venue in Guildford venue has successfully appealed a noise abatement order after a court applied the “agent of change” principle.  Guildford Borough Council (GBC) had issued the noise abatement order last October against the Star Inn, a pub in the town that stages live music. The Council acted after receiving a complaint from the developer of a new block of flats nearby. The pub’s owner, the Shepherd Neame brewery, appealed the order, arguing that complying with it would cost a significant portion of the business’s revenue and could therefore potentially force the venue to close.

The property developer, Neil Young, who had converted an office block next to the existing music venue into a residential property had filed the complaint. Explaining the decision, the the Magistrates Court said “The Star was said to have only been a nuisance because of [the new flats] existing. It wasn’t a nuisance before the conversion of the office building into flats. The venue has a useful or reasonable use. Matters in the venue are carried out in a lawful way. The venue is no greater nuisance now than when the building was first converted”.

Thew decision highlight the problem with the way in which the local authority considered the planning application to convert an office block into flats in 2013. Judge Nick Wattam heard how GBC officers did not order an acoustic report of the Quarry Street pub to be conducted prior to the site being granted permission.The venue have said that officials should have recognised the potential issues with those new flats being adjacent to an existing venue and should have ensured that the developer was working to deal with those issues as part of the conversion work.  

In a post on Facebook, the Music Venue Trust, which campaigned for agent of change alongside the likes of the Musicians Union and UK Music, said: “Attention all developers: Stop and read this judge’s decision carefully. Our door is open to all developers that want to talk sensibly about how to build around grassroots music venues in a manner that protects culture and beloved community spaces” adding “Let this case be the end of trying to work around agent of change or bend the law or planning guidance. Let it be the start of building great housing that protects our cherished grassroots music venues”. It then concluded: “Congratulations to the team at the Star. Absolutely brilliant!’

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