It is not surprising, therefore, that with councils seemingly hell-bent on attracting further residents to town centres, it has been reported that yet another iconic live music venue, the Sheffield Boardwalk — which opened its doors in July 1976, has shut because of (among other things) complaints from owners of new flats.
This joins a long list of other live music venues that have recently closed, including Blind Tiger, Brighton, and Boileroom, Guildford. Indeed, a venue near to me, while not being forced to close, was forced to spend almost £250,000 in replacing its roof following complaints from residents who lived in a block of flats, which had been built some 50 years after the venue had opened.
Indeed, there are a plethora of sanctions such a venue can face as a result of complaints from a resident who may only have lived next to the venue for a week, when the venue itself has been there for more than 100 years.
It may seem highly unfair but that is the way the law stands, and it is a brave licensing committee that will take sympathy with an operator, faced with a vociferous group of residents who must have known that they were moving next door to a venue, which is likely to create a considerable amount of music noise.
That being said, there have been cases of licensing authorities deciding cases in favour of such venues in the past, but no decision has proceeded to the higher courts.
One notable decision was a Manchester music venue, Night and Day Café, which was successful on a review of its premises licence, after it was established the local authority in question had failed to impose appropriate conditions on the planning application requiring the soundproofing of the flats at the time they were built, despite the venue having made representations against the grant of the planning application.
Putting the Licensing Act 2003 to one side, your live music venue could face a closure notice under the Anti-social Behaviour and Policing Act 2014; a noise abatement notice, should the nuisance be a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990; or a fine under the Noise Act 1996.
What can be done? Short of pleading to the sensitivity of the licensing committee faced with a review of a premises licence?
The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) alongside the PMA has urged local authorities to adopt an ‘agent of change’ principle, which would help a venue that is already licensed and operating when a new residential unit is built, by requiring that the developer be responsible for the effective soundproofing of the residential building.
The Music Venue Trust (MVT) has also criticised the existing laws, and pushed for the agent-of-change principle to be adopted.
This had led to one council, Bristol City Council, forcing developers to install soundproofing for a new block of residential dwellings, built close to the Fleece music venue. The principle is explained by the MVT in an open letter it wrote to three governmental departments:
The principle is simple: if a venue increases its noise, it should make changes to adapt it. If a developer wants to build next to a music venue, they must build to adapt to the noise. If a new occupier moves into a zone where there is an accepted level of noise, they should make changes to adapt to it”.
In other words, whichever building is there before, be it the building generating noise, or the residential building, the second building coming to the site is responsible for paying for appropriate soundproofing.
Changes have already been adopted in the state of Victoria in Australia, ensuring developers are constructing residential dwellings, which are near music venues, to a higher specification in terms of soundproofing.
A similar approach was adopted when the owners of The Ministry of Sound reached an agreement with the developer, which was constructing residential properties a few metres away from the club. The developer was responsible for the acoustic protection of the flats.
This does not prevent residents from complaining about noise breakout from live music venues, and with enforcement by environmental health officers of noise levels inconsistent and patchy around the country, there is no guarantee one environmental health officer would necessarily follow the lead of another.
The guidance to the Licensing Act 2003 makes it clear that public nuisance in terms of the Licensing Act 2003 can be low-level nuisance as opposed to a statutory nuisance. So while the agent-of-change principle has to be welcomed, live music venues such as your 2,000-capacity venue, which has been around for 100 years will (unless there is any change in legislation) always face uncertainty over its future while residential dwellings continue to sprout around them.
What is clear is that any venue faced with the construction of residential dwellings in close proximity should ensure that it raises a representation against the planning application to try to ensure rigorous conditions are imposed requiring soundproofing of the residential units.