UK Music Venues Gain New Protections | Features | MN2S

The UK’s music venues now have extra protection thanks to new legislation from the government.

This great news comes after many UK music venues have felt under threat from the emergence of neighbouring apartment blocks. The new laws, which will be active from 6th April, mean developers have to seek prior approval on noise impact before they can change an office building into a residential building. The changes have been welcomed by many music industry bodies, including UK Music, Music Venue Trust and the Musicians’ Union. But do these laws give venues the protection they deserve, or do they not go far enough? We break the situation down to investigate.

Why do venues need new protection?

Very recently, changes to development rights have made it easier for developers to change the use of buildings from offices to residences. While this may go some way to helping solve the housing crisis (if the houses kept affordable to those who need them most, and not sold off as investments) it has done little to help music venues. This is because once residents move into these newly-homely office blocks, they often make noise complaints to the council about the sound coming from the venues nearby.

It is not unreasonable for a resident to like a little peace and quiet in their home, but the problem here is if buildings around music venues are continually converted into apartment blocks, the complaints will mount and venues will have to close. Taken to its logical extreme, this situation would lead to venues only existing far away from populated areas.

With so many music venues closing down around the country, this is obviously a huge problem. The BBC recently found that 40% of live music venues in London have closed in the past 10 years. These figures are frightening for the music industry, and the threat from residents’ noise complaints certainly keeps venues on edge. The Guardian found that several of the UK’s most iconic venues, including the 100 Club in Oxford Street and Band on the Wall in Manchester may have to close in the near future due to repeated noise complaints. The complaints can lead to sanctions or legal battles that are very expensive, especially for venues that are already struggling to make money in the current economic climate.

Chances are, if you are reading this, we don’t even have to convince you of the importance small venues have to the UK’s culture. But it is worth saying that these places are where the giant acts of the future start out, and where more niche acts that still enrich the culture can find a home. Smaller venues like these can take risks on who they book – the kind of risks that lead to new cultural movements, and the kind of risks that large, safer venues cannot afford to take.

What do the new protections do?

The full text of the new protections can be found here, but the jist of it is this: the authority will now consider the potential noise impact of surrounding music venues on future residents of the flats. It is not just limited to music venues, either. Anywhere used for entertainment or even industrial purposes is protected.

This means that, if the authorities make the right decisions, these threatened small music venues will now have a much easier time continuing to operate. The best part is, developers can still convert old office buildings to residential buildings, but now they will be encouraged to take noise-mitigating measures when they do it. Potentially, this could lead to an increase in patronage for venues which will be within walking distance for the new residents.

In a meeting with Culture Minister Ed Vaizey MP, leaders of several music organisations welcomed the changes with open arms. And on the surface these measures do sound great. The only potential issues come from the level of interpretation allowed within the new framework. Until these laws come into effect, we will not be able to tell how strongly in favour of music venues most local councils are, and with demand for housing rising, there is every reason to be sceptical.

From the sound of it, and from the fact that these laws were brought into place at all, it seems like the Government does want these venues to be protected. But since these regulations place power in the hands of the local planning authorities, we cannot be certain every council will feel the same way.

Do these new laws do enough to protect venues?

The answer to this is no. Yes, they certainly help, but there are many other reasons that small venues and clubs around the UK are closing, and these laws do not address all of them. Factors like increased university tuition fees, higher rent costs and lower salaries have left the country’s current generation of young adults poorer than their predecessors, and thus less likely to visit many of these venues. While it will take much larger legal reforms to address issues such as these, there are other, smaller changes that could help small music venues too. Lowering the cost of fines or legal challenges for noise complaints against places of entertainment would be another step in the right direction.

Banner image is Dreadzone @ Band On The Wall, Manchester 7/12/2012 by Jake from Manchester, UK, CC BY 2.0

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