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ONE of the Musicians Union’s motions this year calls for a change in the law to offer protection to long-established music venues.
There is a worrying trend of historic venues being forced to close after receiving noise abatement notices from the local authority after only one or two complaints from neighbours.
This is becoming more problematic as a result of the increasing numbers of new flats and houses being built in the vicinity of existing music venues.
New residents are often unaware of the venue when they purchase or lease the property and then subsequently put in noise complaints.
The Night and Day in Manchester is a case in point. It is currently fighting for its survival after one local resident made a noise complaint. The Fleece and Firkin in Bristol, which has been a seminal music venue for 32 years, was recently under threat from noise complaints as a result of an adjacent office block being converted into apartments following the relaxation of building regulations.
The long-established Boileroom in Guildford is having an official licence review this month at the request of local residents who recently moved near to the venue.
There are countless other examples, such as George’s Tavern in Stepney, where developers want to build apartments next to the venue with the inevitable consequence of noise complaints from residents, or the Blind Tiger in Brighton where a new resident moved in above the venue and complained about the noise. This eventually led to the closure of the venue.
Live music performance is an essential aspect of culture in Britain and our music venues should be protected as cultural institutions for the benefit of all.
Venues must, of course, stick to the terms of their licence and residents must be able to complain if they do not comply or are causing a genuine nuisance.
But equally, flats which are built above, adjacent or nearby to an existing music venue should not take precedence over an established institution.
If someone were lucky enough to move in next to the Albert Hall they would be very unlikely to complain about the noise or the crowds of people because they would have known that they were moving in next to a live-performance venue.
Likewise, if you moved in next to a railway track you would presumably have already decided that you could deal with the noise of the trains passing.
And this choice is key. Developers who build flats and houses next to venues must be required to let potential residents know so that they can make an informed decision about whether they would like to live there.
The MU would therefore like to see the introduction of an “agent of change principle” law, such as that in Victoria, Australia, which would put the legal responsibility of remedying any issues on to the person or persons who have brought about the change of use that inadvertently affects their business. It is then up to that individual or business to take steps to remedy the problem.
In the case of a property developer building homes in the vicinity of a music venue, it would be the property developer’s legal and financial responsibility to use sound-proofing to prevent any inconvenience to the residents and the music venue bears no responsibility, other than to continue to operate within the terms of their existing licence.
John Smith is general secretary of the Musicians Union.
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