One of the key talking points from newly-elected London mayor Sadiq Khan’s campaign was his range of proposals regarding London’s night life.
London is one of the most culturally in-demand cities in the world; we only need to look at the Resident Advisor listings on the weekend to see that London is heaving with events – Londoners have never had so much choice. Yet it is no secret that London night club/bar owners are facing a constant battle with both residents and the local authorities to keep their venues open. According to City Hall, this past decade in London has seen nearly 40% of its live music venues close down, with clubs like Dance Tunnel forced to shut their doors due to stringent licensing conditions. The owner of Dance Tunnel, Dan Beaumont, has recently complained on their Facebook page about the “licensing climate in Hackney” preventing it from opening for longer periods and offering a worthwhile yet profitable clubbing experience. Sadiq Khan acknowledged these challenges, telling Dazed that he “didn’t want young and creative Londoners abandoning our city to head to Amsterdam, to Berlin, to Prague where clubs are supported and allowed to flourish.” He pledged to therefore speed up the introduction of the 24-hour night tube, support the Agent of Change amendment and appoint a night mayor.
The idea of a nachtburgemeester – night mayor – was inspired by Amsterdam who appointed their first night commissioner in 2014 to help rebuild relationships between local authorities, businesses and the residents in order to support the night-time economy. This appointment has led to a transformation of Amsterdam’s night life culture, making it one of the biggest music destinations in Europe, hosting a wide range of festivals, and music events year-round. The success of the night mayor in Amsterdam encouraged other cities such as Paris, Zurich and Berlin to create their own representative body to help support and promote their night scene. The key areas a night mayor could focus on in the London night economy is licensing conditions, the pressures of gentrification and redevelopment.
After the explosion of Acid House and ecstasy on the UK night scene in the late 80s, tensions began to grow between local authorities and nightclubs as they imposed strict licensing conditions in order to curb anti-social behaviour. This stance alongside the MET police’s strict measures to curb alcohol-related violence in the city made licence issuing and regulation a top priority for local authorities. This hostile licensing climate is one of the biggest reasons behind closures of music venues around the city, with it becoming increasingly harder to obtain licences to open later than 3am. This is especially the case in areas such as Dalston which has recently implemented the Special Policy Order meaning that extended licences are granted to clubs only in exceptional circumstances. The implementation of a night mayor could act as a supporting figure for venue owners in local council meetings to persuade local authorities to offer more flexible planning and licensing conditions. It is important that these measures aren’t contingent on investing heavily into equipment such as ID scanners and sniffer dogs to remain open (as was the case with Fabric). There is already evidence for success in this method as shown by the night mayor Garrit in Groningen, who stated that his appointment to office, has encouraged governments to stop restricting bars to “only 12 days of live music to live music every day – depending on complaints from locals.”
Gentrification has led to London becoming a hotspot for property developers, exerting pressure on current venue owners who are facing soaring rent, and more noise complaints from surrounding residents. Because of current UK legislation, noise complaints are the responsibility of nightclub owners which means they are obliged in certain cases to pay to soundproof nearby residential buildings. There has already been progress with recent legislation forcing local authorities to consider noise impacts on new residents from existing businesses. However, a night mayor could really play a part in rallying behind the Agent for Change amendment which would remove the responsibility off of night owners to tackle noise pollution and place it on to the property developers. Local authorities zero tolerance approach to noise pollution could actually be approached differently by a night mayor. They could instead find solutions to the problem such as hiring more night patrols to control the night crowds rather than through issuing heavy fines to night clubs. They could also work with the local council to advise them of the cultural and social factors present in the borough when committing to new housing developments.
Gentrification has also led to an increasing number of new residential buildings and businesses being built on and around live music venues, which has ended up in many cases with live music venues being forced to close their doors. The Rhythm Factory is one of the most popular clubs to have recently closed “due to pressures from the local authority including granting planning permissions for residential buildings all around the Rhythm Factory”. The George Tavern, one of Britain’s oldest live venues and a grade II listed building, is under real threat of closure from property developers who have purchased the adjoining site. They have already had several appeals turned down over the past decade but have a final chance to present their case at the Court of Appeals later on this year. It does appear however that landlords are swimming against the tide when fighting against property developers especially with London’s dire housing situation. The key stakeholders in London’s club scene are going to have to accept the inevitable future of more and more residential buildings being built around live music venues. It is the role of the night mayor to therefore moderate the dialogue and bring a solution that is beneficial to both sides otherwise London could end up seeing its music scene being further and further edged out.
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by Soraya Stanley