How can your pub handle neighbours from hell?

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Agent of change: Steve Burnett from Poppleston Allen addresses noise complaints at the MA500 conference in Sheffield
Agent of change: Steve Burnett from Poppleston Allen addresses noise complaints at the MA500 conference in Sheffield
Steve Burnett from specialist licensing solicitors Poppleston Allen discusses the introduction of the agent-of-change principle and how it can help pubs hush hellish neighbours.

The massive increase in lucrative residential property meant more people moved into town centres, thus creating more conflict between residential and licensed properties, according to Poppleston Allen associate Steve Burnett​.

Speaking at The Morning Advertiser's​ MA500 conference in Sheffield, he said: “The problem started with one of the Government’s election promises.  

“They talked about regeneration and needing more residential property in towns and cities, so they relaxed planning permission. Therefore, we had more residential premises being built around licensed premises.

“Noise was never a consideration. Many local authorities planning departments didn’t get involved with site visits.”

He gave examples where people had moved into a city and complained about church bells, where a new development built next to a speedway track saw complaints about motorbikes, and where a new build next to a farm prompted complaints about sheep noise. “The environmental health officer said they were all noise nuisance,” he added.

According to Burnett, historically if you’re the one making the noise nuisance, you’re responsible, with the environmental health officer typically being more supportive of residents than business owners when complaints are made.

“This creates a nightmare neighbour situation. Let’s say your site has been playing music for about 20 years, ideally you’d like to see a restaurant or feeder bar to increase revenue. But what you see are residents moving next door.”

Burnett highlights that 38% of music venues in the past decade closed down because residential property was being built near them.

“Clearly an issue that had to be addressed was conflict from new residential premises being built next to licensed premises.”

A number of cases led to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan incorporating Agent of Change principle into the local London planning documents after a series of conflicts between residential and licensed property across the capital.

These included residential development in Mayfair around the Curzon cinema and at the Ministry of Sound night club, where a decision was taken that a nearby residential tower block’s accommodation would have to be soundproofed and residents wouldn’t be able to alter the historic night club in any way.

Moreover, the Mercy Nightclub saw a nearby office block convert to residential property. As soon as people moved in there were complaints. The venue was closed for months while £80,000 worth of acoustic work took place, nearly putting them out of business.

Cases such as these encouraged London’s Mayor to incorporate the agent-of-change principle to protect licensed properties. “He said if you’re a developer and you develop residential property next to a licensed premises, the emphasis is on whoever is making the change to prevent noise nuisances" according to Burnett.

“It’s not complicated, it’s not rocket science.” 

There is currently a Private Members’ Bill​ in Parliament that seeks to incorporate the principle into planning law, with the final reading taking place on 26 October. It is anticipated that the agent-of-change principle will become law.

Making the most of agent-of-change

“To make use of agent-of-change and protect yourselves in a scenario when you’ve got a residential premises opening next door, the art is to be active,” said Burnett. 

He recommended that operators keep an eye on planning websites, and seek to get website alerts when an application has been put in your area.

Moreover, Burnett highlighted the value in checking with local authorities for any regeneration proposals and getting involved in the consultation.

He suggested, however, that operators should be cautious about automatically objecting. Burnett advised: “This may be an opportunity for you to boost footfall and revenue” and he suggested trying to make a contribution rather than lodging an outright objection.

Additionally, Burnett advises operators to check planning permission conditions to ensure that residential properties have complied, and to consider the possibility of developers paying for acoustic work to your premises - if the noise can’t be remedied in the residential property, the developer may be able to pay for an acoustic solution at your site.

For more information on the agent-of-change principle, read further explanation from Poppleston Allen here​. 

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