Threats to Grassroots Music Venues from Development, Planning, Residents and Culture
The Fight Goes On: Tackling Threats to Grassroots Music Venues
Music Venue Trust rarely plug individual venue cases as our work is about taking the strategic view. We want to change national policy and attitudes to help all UK venues.
Here we take a look at three current examples which highlight how much work remains to be done to tackle ongoing threats to grassroots music venues in areas including development, planning, residents and cultural parity.
Case Study 1: Development & Venues
The threat from development is a well-known theme to Music Venues Alliance members, much discussed in relation to venues such as The Fleece in Bristol, Village Underground, Shoreditch, The Square, Harlow and 24 Kitchen Street, Liverpool. Music Venue Trust has made a number of successful interventions into the planning and development process, but the following example shows how all-consuming this threat can be.
The George Tavern, London E1
Owner and manager Pauline Forster has endured a long-term fight to preserve The George as a pub, music venue and location for filming and photography shoots in Stepney (not renowned as a culturally active area of East London). Faced with planning applications for redevelopment both to the side and at the rear of the venue, the implications threaten both her livelihood and her home, which is above the pub. One of the applications is on its 6th stage. The history of this application is typical of the process grassroots music venues go through:
Tower Hamlets council turned down Swan Housing’s planning application. Swan’s plans were to turn the old Stepney night club adjacent to the George into six private flats. Tower Hamlets council found this plot of land unsuitable for residential use due to the noise generated by the activities at the George.
Swan appealed the decision by Tower Hamlets council and it was overturned by the Planning Inspectorate. Swan had commissioned a sound report which stated that the noise from the George wouldn’t make the building unsuitable for residential use. Lack of funds made it impossible for Pauline to submit her own sound report.
Pauline was granted a judicial review but no new evidence was granted and The George Tavern lost.
After an oral hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice, Pauline was granted the right to appeal.
Swan’s planning application was quashed in The Court of Appeal. The judgment turned on the fact that the luxury flats would have seriously jeopardised the unique location and photography business at the George since the only natural light source onto the first and second storey landings and historic staircase would have been eliminated. The location business is crucial to the upkeep of the building and helping the bar stay open. This had not been taken into account when Swan won the appeal in 2014.
Swan appealed the decision and a Planning Inspector is now redetermining the appeal. New evidence is allowed and the hearing will take place on 22 March, 10am at Council Chamber, Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, London E14 2BG.
MVT and the GLA have written in support of The George.
Members of the public can attend the hearing on to support Pauline and her team; they would appreciate all the support they can get.
Case Study 2: Residents & Venues
After several years of discussion around Agent of Change, this issue is still a real threat to venues across the country. The balance between residents’ needs and venues’ needs is a difficult one. Music Venue Trust believes that a great balance between those needs can be struck by adopting the Agent of Change principle; that the person wanting to make a change to an area or building is responsible for managing the impact of that change.
The current example on Womanby Street, Cardiff directly affects 3 MVA members and is typical of an Agent of Change issue; not only has a new resident marched into Fuel Rock Club and demanded that they turn the volume down, then subsequently made a formal complaint to Cardiff City Council, but the planned redevelopment of the Wetherspoons Pub to include hotel rooms is real cause for concern. Despite Womanby Street being (informally but widely) recognized as a music/nightlife quarter, planning permission has been granted for hotel rooms which back onto the very part of the street where Clwb Ifor Bach, The Moon Club and Fuel Rock Club are clustered.
Although we are not convinced by the efficacy of petitions, Mark, Beverley and Frank Turner have all signed the petition which calls on the Welsh Assembly to support Cardiff’s music scene.
If you feel able to add your support, please do by signing here.
Case Study 3: Definitions of Cultural Venues
A key strand of MVT’s work is attempting to re-position the perception of Grassroots Music Venues as cultural venues rather than bars/clubs that sell alcohol as their main business and also put on music. We believe that grassroots music venues are an essential part of the social, cultural and economic fabric of the UK. All too often the role they play simply isn’t even recognized within cultural planning. An illustration of the urgent need to push this work forward is the situation around Electric Circus in Edinburgh.
Sadly, this wonderful GMV will close at the end of March, representing a real loss to developing music in the city. You can read the story here.
TAMVA member Nick Stewart (Sneaky Pete’s) hits the nail on the head when he says,
“Whilst it’s good to see the gallery next door expanding – we’re all in favour of more art in the city – it’s a shame that music venues aren’t deemed to be as culturally prestigious and worth funding as other arts sectors seem to be. I think now is a good time for organisations such as Creative Scotland to have a look at the infrastructure that enables excellence in new music to be showcased. Grassroots Music Venues such as ours are the research and development departments of Scotland and the UK’s music business and need to be valued.”