Overzealous restrictions are destroying London’s entertainment industry

The council continually favours rich new tenants over long-standing independent businesses.

The council continually favours rich new tenants over long-standing independent businesses

London’s nightlife is at risk. For the past few years, council restrictions have been dripping in that are clamping down on the city’s once legendary music scene.

The atmosphere in some of the capital’s cultural hotspots is increasingly stifled, and there is a widespread feeling that we can no longer compete with other cities.

As the council enforces relentless security measures, and continues to prioritise expensive housing projects over local culture, London is in danger of losing its spark.

It is also a sad reflection of our gentrification-obsessed councils that the wishes of wealthy new residents are listened to over people who have lived and worked in lively neighbourhoods for years.

The issue has hit headlines recently thanks to the closure of several iconic music venues.

In October, Vibe Bar, ironically a venue that is credited with transforming Brick Lane into a nightlife hub, announced that it was closing due to ‘petty minded’ restrictions.

A curfew in the famous courtyard meant that the club lost 50 per cent of its customers in two years.

Owner Alan Miller said that the council had made ID scanners, extensive CCTV networks and large security teams compulsory, driving costs to untenable heights.

Meanwhile, much-loved gay pub The Joiner’s Arms has announced that it will be forced to shut in January because a development company is planning to demolish the building to make room for expensive new flats.

As well as being renowned for its friendliness and diverse clientele, The Joiners was the first pub to introduce the Living Wage for all its staff.

Last year thousands of people signed a successful petition against the Met’s attempts to retract the venue’s late license, which would have destroyed its business.

Illogically, the police have cited the binge drinking culture as one of the reasons for the spate of restrictions and especially for those introduced at Vibe. But a curfew only encourages people to drink faster.

In cities like Istanbul and Berlin where clubs are open later, people are much more relaxed about their alcohol consumption. Clubbers drink slowly and punctuate their nights with food, and are therefore far less likely to be unconscious by midnight.

A promoter for Madame Jojo’s in Soho, the latest club to announce its closure, says that  the entertainment industry is suffering because of the council’s attempts to make everywhere uniformly family – and profit – friendly.

“If you look at the way the area is changing, they clearly don’t want a late-night drinking presence anywhere in Soho any more. They want to make Soho about families – shopping, going out to eat, going to the theatre. The bars shut at 11 and you’re home by midnight.”

Last year, Lambeth Council proposed draconian new measures to curtail nightlife in Brixton. Appendix 1 of the Draft Licensing Policy would compel all ‘major town centre’ clubs to close at 2am on Fri-Sat (1am, Mon-Thurs), with ‘District Town Centres’ forced to close at 1am on weekends.

Venues further out of town would have to close by 11.

This was because of a spate of noise complaints by people who had knowingly moved into an area with a thriving music scene.

Time and again, long standing business with existing licences are being put under threat by people who have arrived since gentrification, and by a council that only heeds the desires of people with one kind of lifestyle.

Perhaps the best example of this is the case of the George Tavern in Stepney. The pub has been there for a staggering 600 years, but is now facing closure because developers Swan Housing want to turn the neighbouring building into six flats.

The pub’s landlady Pauline Forster says that if the flats are built, noise complaints will force the George to close.

Despite a huge campaign, the development is going ahead. The George Tavern will continue its business as normal, but understands that once the flats are inhabited the risk of noise complaints will force them to curtail their live music events.

It is important to note that the people who move into these areas and cost people their livelihoods are people who have choices. It is very expensive to live in central Brixton or Shoreditch. The flats next to The George Tavern will be highly sought after and competitively priced.

There is currently a government petition to introduce mandatory noise complaint waivers for anyone who knowingly buys or rents a property within close distance of a music venue.  The petition states that:

“It is extremely detrimental to the UK’s entertainment industry, particularly on a grassroots level, when all the music venues start disappearing. Music is a key British export and to endanger our strong national artist community is to endanger a key British industry.”

Gentrification may be inevitable, but the people who move to newly fashionable areas should respect the things that made them desirable in the first place.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

9 Responses to “Overzealous restrictions are destroying London’s entertainment industry”

  1. JohnRich

    It seems rather sensible to stop late night noise and disturbance.

  2. Music Heritage UK

    Thanks for writing what is a great summary of what’s going on in London. We’ve been supporting the George Tavern campaign, and working closely with them over the last 12 months.

    There is actually some excellent academic research from America looking at what the city of Omaha did which shows there is a clear positive economic value in nurturing a thriving music scene and that it can actually drive urban regeneration.

    There are a couple of very simple steps that could be taken to support music venues. However for them to even be considered there needs to be a reappraisal by local authorities of the value that live music venues bring to an area – not only financially, but culturally too and in terms of making an area desirable for people to live and do business there…. Too often this is misunderstood or ignored for a more immediate return.

    1) Adopt the ‘agent of change’ principle which has been successfully introduced in Victoria, Australia. Essentially it means that the onus on soundproofing venues, etc., would have to fall on any developer looking to build flats in proximity to an existing live music establishment. It’s a simple, common sense approach which our current planning laws seem to lack.

    2) Extend the policy introduced at a development next to the Ministry of Sound to all future projects. This means that any residents sign away any legal right to complain about noise from one of London’s most famous clubs. Boris actually brokered this (and good on him for doing so), but it clearly should be applied to all music venues across the capital.

    The above two points, coupled with a change in attitude from local authorities would ensure that our music venues, clubs and pubs are able to continue to operate without ‘unnatural’ pressures from new residents or property developers.

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    The “change in attitude” you’d cause would be for councils to be faced with a barrage of complaints about entertainment venues, and strong opposition to any entertainment licence – certainly all new ones would face major rallies.

  4. uglyfatbloke

    An excellent piece. If you buy a flat next to a gig you should accept that it will be noisy. Music is one of our genuinely important industries, but governments of all stripes and at all levels seem to be keen to undermine it.

  5. Nick London

    In soho? That’s the life of soho.

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