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7 December 2015

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. 

By George Eaton

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. 

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“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.