London Mayor’s Plan To Save Music Venues

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has included the agent of change rule in his draft London Plan, which is to ensure that developments next to existing venues meet soundproofing costs.   

Big Ben
– Big Ben

The London Plan is a document that outlines the policies intended to shape the capital over the next 20-25 years. And although the next version will only be published in its final form in two years, the draft was published Nov. 29.

In it, the mayor, who is aware that London has lost some 185 music venues in the past decade, has included the agent of change rule, which puts the burden of soundproofing on developers that move into areas with a bustling nightlife.

Research by industry body UK Music indicates that total spend by music tourists visiting smaller venues in London decreased by 16 percent last year. The organization says 44 percent fewer overseas music tourists visited the capital to attend gigs at smaller venues in 2016.

UK Music CEO Michael Dugher said music tourism generated more than £1 billion income for London each year and attracted more than 3.5 million people to gigs and festivals.

He congratulated Khan and London Night Czar Amy Lamé “for recognizing that beyond its success the sustainability of music and the night time economy face real challenges which need to be supported by planning decisions.”

It’s not just traditional music venues that will have helped Khan’s decision to include agent of change. Since 2001, the number of pubs in the English capital has fallen by a quarter – or by 81 per year.

Many pubs regularly host live music in London. Lamé, who campaigned for years to save the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, said, “I understand the pivotal role pubs play in community life and how passionately Londoners feel about their local.”

The mayor encouraged boroughs “to resist applications to redevelop areas directly connected to public houses – such as beer gardens, function rooms or landlord accommodation.”

Kate Nicholls, CEO of the UK’s hospitality association ALMR, commented: “It is good to see the Mayor’s Office taking seriously the opportunity to support London’s hugely important eating and drinking out sector and a recognition that pubs and live music are at the heart of the London Plan.”

While the UK’s Music Venue Trust (MVT) said it was “delighted” that Khan included agent of change in the draft plan, it points out that “the fight doesn’t end there.

“We need this right across the UK. And we’re not going to stop until we get it.”

While the Welsh government has already pledged to include the agent of change rule in future planning policy, there’s still a fight for it going on in Scotland’s parliament. 

“We’re talking to the mayors across the UK to introduce this common sense approach in their cities,” the MVT stated.

Here are excerpts from the London Plan, which sums up the basics of the agent of change rule:

“Development proposals should manage noise and other potential nuisances by: 1) ensuring good acoustic design to mitigate and minimize existing and potential impacts of noise generated by existing uses located in the area 2) exploring mitigation measures early in the design stage, with necessary and appropriate provisions secured through planning obligations 3) separating new noise-sensitive development where possible from existing noise-generating businesses through distance, screening, internal layout, sound-proofing and insulation, and other acoustic design measures.”

The draft also states, that “development should be designed to ensure that established noise-generating venues remain viable and can continue or grow without unreasonable restrictions being placed on them.”

One of the most recent cases of a club threatened by a new development is DHP Family’s Thekla in Bristol. “If this development goes ahead with inadequate soundproofing, it would leave the Thekla vulnerable to complaints from residents about noise. The Thekla’s whole future is at risk,” DHP’s Julie Tippins said.

In a recent Pollstar interview, MVT founder Mark Davyd explained in great detail the threats that grassroots music venues are facing in the UK, explaining how the music industry has “built a model of work that doesn’t reward the thing we’re doing.”

Most of his concerns were addressed at Venues Day, Oct. 17.

Meanwhile, Sony Music has come forth as the first UK major label pledging to support the country’s grassroots music venues financially. Although details are scarce, the move at least indicates that the sector recognizes that artists need spaces to play live, if they are to become the next big thing – in terms of ticket and record sales.