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Exclusive: Labour tables amendments to housing bill to save small music venues

Shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher backs "Agent of Change" principle to protect venues against developers. 

After Michael Dugher became shadow culture secretary, one of the first issues he raised was the plight of small music venues. Of the 430 that traded in London between 2007 and 2015, only 245 remain open. At the Music Trust's Venue Day 2015, Dugher, renowned for his love of karaoke, warned: "There is a real crisis at the moment and that's why we need a national strategy to support small music venues before many more shut." 

Now, ahead of tomorrow's committee stage debate on the Planning and Housing Debate, the New Statesman can reveal that Labour has tabled amendments on this issue. The party has endorsed the "Agent of Change" principle, which would require developers who build apartment blocks near established venues (open for at least a year) to pay for soundproofing and mitigate against other potential problems. At present, developers have no legal obligation to soundproof new residences, forcing developers to spend significant amounts fending off noise complaints, abatement notices and planning applications. 

The Music Venues Trust has warned that the government’s 2013 amendments to permit offices, car parks and disused buildings across the country to be converted to residences without planning permission has made the situation for venues even worse. Many chose their location deliberately so that they wouldn't be a "nuisance" to residents. The "Agent of Change" principle has already been adopted in Australia, where it has helped small music venues, and is supported by many MPs, industry body UK Music, BBC Radio 6 and venues (a petition on the issue attracted 31,586 signatures).

Jo Dipple, the chief executive of UK music, said: "UK Music is concerned about the worrying trend of closures in grassroots music venues. These venues act as important hubs for creativity and a means of nurturing talent that for an industry that contributes £4.1 billion to the UK economy. We strongly welcome encouraging signs that politicians are taking seriously the threats of further closures and look to the Government to support the introduction of these amendments into law."

Dugher said: "Since 2010, the Conservative government have just stood by whilst more and more grassroots music venues have been forced to close. 

"Small music venues play a key role in the success of the UK creative industry through enabling great young talent to grow and develop into our next global stars.  But there is a real crisis at the moment and that's why we need to adopt the Agent of Change principle to support small music venues. 

"Only a change in legislation can adequately resolve the situation and protect all concerned parties by clearly stipulating who is responsible for soundproofing and other necessary measures when a change is introduced to an area.  This has the support from the music industry and I hope the government will now back Labour’s amendments so we can help save grassroots music venues before it’s too late."

Labour sources believe there is "a good chance" that ministers, who have pledged to look at the issue, will support the amendments. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Charlottesville: a town haunted by the far right

Locals fear a bitter far right will return.

On 12 August, a car ploughed down pedestrians in the street where I used to buy my pecan pies. I had recently returned to London from Charlottesville, Virginia – the scene of what appears to have been an act of white supremacist terrorism – having worked and taught at the university there for four years. While I unpacked boxes of books, the streets I knew so well were full of hate and fire.

The horror began on the evening of Friday 11 August, when thugs with torches marched across the “Lawn”. Running through the heart of the university, this is where, each Halloween, children don ghoulish costumes and trick-or-treat delighted and generous fourth-year undergraduates.

But there were true monsters there that night. They took their stand on the steps of the neoclassical Rotunda – the site of graduation – to face down a congregation about to spill out of St Paul’s Episcopal opposite.

Then, on Saturday morning, a teeming mass of different groups gathered in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park), where my toddler ran through splash pads in the summer.

We knew it was coming. Some of the groups were at previous events in Charlottesville’s “summer of hate”. Ever since a permit was granted for the “Unite the Right” march, we feared that this would be a tipping point. I am unsure whether I should have been there, or whether I was wise to stay away.

The truth is that this had nothing to do with Charlottesville – and everything to do with it. From one perspective, our small, sleepy university town near the Blue Ridge Mountains was the victim of a showdown between out-of-towners. The fighting was largely not between local neo-Nazis and African Americans, or their white neighbours, for that matter. It was between neo-Nazis from far afield – James Alex Fields, Jr, accused of being the driver of the lethal Dodge Challenger, was born in Kentucky and lives in Ohio – and outside groups such as “Antifa” (anti-fascist). It was a foreign culture that was foisted upon the city.

Charlottesville is to the American east coast what Berkeley is to the west: a bastion of liberalism and political correctness, supportive of the kind of social change that the alt-right despises. Just off camera in the national newsfeeds was a banner hung from the public  library at the entrance of Emancipation Park, reading: “Proud of diversity”.

I heard more snippets of information as events unfolded. The counter-protesters began the day by drawing on the strength of the black church. A 6am prayer meeting at our local church, First Baptist on Main (the only church in Charlottesville where all races worshipped together before the Civil War), set the tone for the non-violent opposition.

The preacher told the congregation: “We can’t hate these brothers. They have a twisted ideology and they are deeply mistaken in their claim to follow Christ, but they are still our brothers.” Then he introduced the hymns. “The resistance of black people to oppression has only been kept alive through music.”

The congregation exited on to Main Street, opposite my old butcher JM Stock Provisions, and walked down to the statue of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark – the early 19th-century Bear Grylls types who explored the west. They went past Feast! – the delicacy market where we used to spend our Saturday mornings – and on to the dreamy downtown mall where my wife and I strolled on summer evenings and ate southern-fried chicken at the Whiskey Jar.

The permit for the “protest” was noon to 5pm but violence erupted earlier. Between 10.30am and 12pm, the white supremacists, protected by a paramilitary guard, attacked their opponents. As the skirmishes intensified, police were forced to encircle the clashing groups and created, in effect, a bizarre zone of “acceptable” violence. Until the governor declared a state of emergency, grown men threw bottles of piss at each other.

At noon, the crowd was dispersed and the protesters spilled out into the side streets. This was when the riot climaxed with the horrific death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Throughout Saturday afternoon and evening, the far-right groups marauded the suburbs while residents locked their doors and closed their blinds.

I sat in London late into the night as information and prayer requests trickled through. “There are roughly 1,000 Nazis/KKK/alt-right/southern nationalists still around – in a city of 50,000 residents. If you’re the praying type, keep it up.”

No one in Charlottesville is in any doubt as to how this atrocity became possible. Donald Trump has brought these sects to group consciousness. They have risen above their infighting to articulate a common ground, transcending the bickering that mercifully held them back in the past.

In the immediate aftermath, there is clarity as well as fury. My colleague Charles Mathewes, a theologian and historian, remarked: “I still cannot believe we have to fight Nazis – real, actual, swastika-flag-waving, be-uniformed, gun-toting Nazis, along with armed, explicit racists, white supremacists and KKK members. I mean, was the 20th century simply forgotten?”

There is also a sense of foreboding, because the overwhelming feeling with which the enemy left was not triumph but bitterness. Their permit had been to protest from noon to 5pm. They terrorised a town with their chants of “Blood and soil!” but their free speech was apparently not heard. Their safe space, they claim, was not protected.

The next day, the organiser of the march, Jason Kessler, held a press conference to air his grievances. The fear is that the indignant white supremacists will be back in greater force to press their rights.

If that happens, there is one certainty. At one point during the dawn service at First Baptist, a black woman took the stand. “Our people have been oppressed for 400 years,” she said. “What we have learned is that the only weapon which wins the war is love.”

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear