Mayor acts on rescue plan to save London's music venues
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson today threw his weight behind the campaign to halt the drop in the number of music venues in the capital. Since 2007 London has lost 35 per cent of its grassroots music venues and it is feared that if this decline continues it could have major implications for the long term future of a creative and cultural sector that feeds into the UK's £3.8 billion music industry.
Plans include support for the so-called Agent of Change principle, which puts the onus on developers to mitigate potential future conflicts between new developments and long-standing live venues; a night time economy champion to promote the merits of a sector that in the UK is worth £66 billion a year; and a London Music Development Board to take forward an action plan to protect grassroots music venues in the capital.
A new report, London's Grassroots Music Venues Rescue Plan, produced by the Mayor's Music Venues Taskforce, suggests that whilst London's music industry is generating billions for the economy, a vital part of this important cultural as well as economic sector is under threat. The taskforce, set up by the Mayor earlier this year and chaired by the Music Venue Trust, has undertaken an audit of grassroots music venues and found that, from 2007 and 2015, London has seen the number of spaces programming new artists has dropped from 136 to just 88 today.
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson says: 'From the Rolling Stones to David Bowie, the Clash to Oasis and Ed Sheeran to Adele, grassroots music venues have played a key role in enabling some of the biggest names in music to develop as artists and to build audiences. They are the incubators for the stars that go on to pack stadiums in London and across the world. The Music Venues Taskforce report makes it clear that protecting live music venues is crucial to London's continued position as the music capital of the world. This timely report will shape our long term action plan to safeguard and revive London's vital network of live music venues, ensuring the future of the capital's culturally and economically important music scene.'
Iconic names that have disappeared over the last few years include the Marquee, the Astoria, the 12 Bar Club and Madame Jojos, with dozens of other important venues closing down beyond central London. The Rescue Plan identifies a range of factors for grassroots music venues closing and continuing to be under threat. This includes rising rents and licensing restrictions; noise complaints by resident; landlords selling venues to developers to turn into housing; and the lack of an oversight body to represent the industry when issues like these arise.
Musician Frank Turner, who is an advisor to the Music Venues Taskforce, comments: 'I moved to London at age 18 to make my way in music. Since then the city and its scene has changed a lot, and not always for the best. I've seen a lot of the venues that gave me the chance to experiment and grow as an artist disappear. Without the spaces for new talent to discover itself and its audience, music in London will die a slow death, and the UK will lose a huge part of its culture. Something needs to be done to protect these spaces.'
Mark Davyd, who chairs the Music Venues Trust Taskforce, adds: 'Chairing the Taskforce has been a great opportunity for Music Venue Trust to quantify and clarify the challenges music venues across the country are facing, which is so apparent in London. Working with the Mayor's team music industry and venue representatives has given us chance to speak up for grassroots music venues, clearly explaining why they are so important to the future of British music and why London needs to be their flagship.'
The Music Venues Rescue Plan notes that there are forward-thinking developers that recognise grassroots music venues can add community value and improve a project's image. They include Cathedral Group's Old Vinyl Factory development at Hayes, Benson Elliot's plans for Ealing Broadway and Consolidated Developments' plans for Denmark Street. All include new or redeveloped live music venues, with the music venue treated as a community and cultural asset that adds to the place-making impact of each scheme.
The report was launched this morning in historic Denmark Street, which for decades has been associated with the music industry, and is where work is about to begin on central London's first new purpose built live music venue in decades. Plans by the developer – Consolidated Developments – include creating a new venue underground, next to the new Crossrail Station. They also propose to retain the former 12 Bar as a grassroots live music venue and to add a brand new underground gig space to the building. Consolidated are working with the GLA and Camden Council to make Denmark Street a thriving 'Music Zone' in the heart of London.
Responding to the recommendations contained within the report, the Mayor is taking forward a number of measures to protect grassroots music venues across the capital and safeguard a sector that is worth £600 million in music tourism alone. They include:
- Support the application of Agent of Change principles. An idea that has proven successful in Australia and Canada, the Agent of Change principle puts the onus on the developer to mitigate against future problems that might emerge between newcomers to an area and a longstanding local venue, for example over noise complaints. This was used to enable the Ministry of Sound to remain open. City Hall has already included advice on implementing the Agent of Change principle in the Draft Central Activities Zone Supplementary Planning Guide (SPG).
- A champion for the night time economy. Based on a model established in the Netherlands, the Mayor's Office will investigate the potential of a night economy champion to bring together businesses, residents, local authorities, transport, police and emergency services to build positive relationships, review policies and maximise the potential of a sector that in the UK is worth £66 billion a year.
- Set up a London Music Development Board, which will take over the work that the Taskforce has started and implement the recommendations in the Rescue Plan. It will be made up of representatives from London's music industry, venues, licensing authorities, police, planning departments and transport authorities, as well as cultural sector funders.
- The Mayor is publishing a Culture and Planning Guide, jargon-free advice for the music and culture sectors on how planning policy can protect music and cultural venues.
- City Hall is also hosting a symposium on 26 October, bringing together developers, planners, architects, local authorities and cultural organisations to look at best practice and ensure that culture is at the forefront of decisions over planning and development.
- The Mayor's Office will continue to work closely with local authorities, developers and the music industry to encourage a pro-culture approach, particularly in areas where there are music zones and clusters for example Camden, Denmark Street, Hackney and Soho.
A statement from chart topping musician Ed Sheeran is included in the Rescue Plan: 'There was a website that listed every promoter that did acoustic nights and I emailed every single one. There was probably about 300 of those gigs and I got about 50 replies. I did all those gigs. And then I went back and did them again. And again.'
The London's Grassroots Music Venues Rescue Plan and the Mayor's response can be downloaded from www.london.gov.uk/musicvenues. An action plan taking forward recommendations will be published in early 2016.
Notes to editors
- Members of the Music Venues Taskforce include UK Music, the campaigning and lobbying group, which represents every part of the recorded and live music industry, and the Musicians Union. The taskforce has taken feedback from venues, local government and leading musicians, including Frank Turner, who was a special advisor to the panel.
- Music Venue Trust, founded in 2014, is a registered charity that seeks to preserve, secure and improve the UK's network of small to medium scale, mostly independently run, music venues. We have a long term plan to protect that live music network which includes, where necessary, taking into charitable ownership freehold properties so they can be removed from commercial pressures and leased back to passionate music professionals to continue their operation. www.musicvenuetrust.com