German politicians tackle venue closures
Members of Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, are calling for clubs and live music venues to be classified as cultural institutions, in a bid to avoid more grassroots venue closures.
The Die Linke (The Left) party and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/The Greens), who hold 69 and 67 seats in the federal parliament respectively, have submitted reports to the Bundestag urging more protection for the country’s smaller venues.
“Clubs shape the culture and quality of life in cities,” reads the opening of the Left’s report, submitted in October. “They are spaces of cultural diversity and deserve special protection.”
The main demand from both groups is for clubs and live music venues to be recognised as ‘cultural institutions’, rather than ‘places of entertainment’ in the national building code. Such a classification would legally equate venues to concert halls, opera houses, theatres and cinemas, instead of to brothels, sex cinemas and betting shops, as is the case currently.
“In the building code, cultural institutions enjoy more opportunities to integrate into inner cities than entertainment venues,” explain the Left.
“In the building code, cultural institutions enjoy more opportunities to integrate into inner cities than entertainment venues”
The Greens offer the example of famous Berlin club Berghain (1,600-cap.) which won a court battle in 2016 to pay the 7% tax rate levied on cultural venues, rather than the 19% paid by places of entertainment.
The judgement swung in Berghain’s favour, “due to the artistic, concert-like and special creative nature of its programme”, states the Greens’ proposal, submitted earlier this month.
Each party stresses that club- and live music- culture is undervalued and undersupported by the government, with the Green party indicating that, although the club scene generates around €216 million per year in Berlin alone, the sector has “so far received little public funding”.
According to German promoters’ association BDKV, a large number of music venues have been forced to close in the past two years, as noise complaints from local residents drive non-renewals of rental agreements. Venues to have shut their doors include Rosis in Berlin, Dusseldorf’s Damenundherren, Scandale in Cottbus, Essen’s Essener Studio, Kleiner Donner in Hamburg and Munich’s MMA.
“More than ever before, we need these spaces, which act as musical venues for artists and at the same time as social meeting places”
To tackle closures, the parliamentary groups suggest the introduction of the ‘agent of change’ principle, like that in place in the UK and Australia which makes housing developers building new homes near venues responsible for addressing noise issues.
“We sincerely hope that, in retrospect, these two proposals will be the beginning of a bipartisan initiative at the federal level that will work for the benefit of existing and future music venues in Germany,” comments Axel Ballreich, chairman of LiveKomm (LiveMusikKommission).
“More than ever before, we need these spaces, which act as musical venues for artists and at the same time as social meeting places.”
Speaking to IQ in 2017, a LiveKomm spokesperson explained that lack of government support, threat of noise complaints and high taxation were paving the way for a “venue crisis”.
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Agent of change comes into force in UK
As the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) comes into force in England, UK Music has urged local authorities to formally adopt the agent-of-change principle to safeguard music venues.
The umbrella body’s chief executive, Michael Dugher, has written to the chair of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter of Spalding, asking English local authorities to adopt agent of change, which was included in the NPPF in January. Local authorities are legally bound to comply with the NPPF – which came into force today (24 July) – meaning all planning committees must consider the principle when making decisions on applications and in framing their planning policy.
The British government committed to introducing agent of change, which makes housing developers building new homes near UK venues responsible for addressing noise issues, in the NPPF following a campaign by Music Venue Trust and UK Music in support of a bill tabled by former minister John Spellar MP.
“The introduction of agent of change in the NPPF marks a pivotal moment in the fight to protect under-threat music venues,” says Dugher. “The government is to be congratulated for taking this decisive step.
“This has been a long-fought battle and it is vital that local authorities back it to save live music”
“Too often music venues have been the victims of developers. This new law will help ensure music venues can continue to grow audiences and develop talent, contributing significantly to our £1 billion live music industry.”
“This has been a long-fought battle and it is vital that local authorities back it to save live music. There is now no excuse for local authorities for not stepping in to protect grassroots music venues.”
Adds Spellar: “I am delighted that the Government has listened to concerns expressed by MPs and the music industry about the fate of music venues across the country, and has fulfilled its commitment to introduce the agent-of-change principle in the new National Planning Policy Framework by summer recess.
“This is great news for musicians and music lovers whose voice has been loud and has now been heard. Local authorities must now make use of these vital tools to support our world leading music creativity throughout our towns, cities and communities.”
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Strongroom studios under threat from office development
Bosses at London’s Strongroom have launched a campaign to save the iconic recording studio complex, which is under threat from plans to build a new five- or six-storey office block next door.
Co-founders and owners Richard Boote and Paul Woolf say Strongroom could be put of business if planning permission is granted for the offices, with build noise and vibrations making recording sessions impossible during the projected 18-month construction period. The obstruction of natural light once the block is finished would also “drastically affect” the amenity space of Strongroom’s Bar & Kitchen business, they add.
Boote says the proposal is symptomatic of a wider problem in the east London neighbourhood, where smaller, often creative-industry, businesses are increasingly being forced out by property developers.
“The area of Shoreditch has become almost unrecognisable; when I started Strongroom in 1984, there was plenty of space and costs were low,” he comments. “As a result, a fantastic and influential community grew here. We have always attracted a wide range of artists over the years: names such as Orbital, the Chemical Brothers and the Pet Shop Boys, to name a few, all had their own studios within Strongroom, and more recently we’ve worked with artists such as Tom Odell, who mixed Real Love here, Slaves with Are You Satisfied? and Radiohead with Kid A.
“We have been a part of the industry and a part of the area for over 30 years and have watched it change over time. Now we are fighting to protect our livelihood. as there is a genuine danger that even more artists will be priced out of this area, which would be a heart-breaking end to what Shoreditch once was.”
“We want to do everything we can to fight to stay here”
The co-owners called for London’s creative industries to rally around the under-threat studios, and a 38 Degrees petition is set to be delivered to Hackney Council, Hackney MP Diane Abbott, mayor of London Sadiq Khan and more.
“We want Strongroom to continue to thrive as a hub for creative industries – like it was in the days where people’s needs were more important than pound signs – instead of the land of corporate greed it seems to be becoming, which is [we recently made the decision] for the Kitchen to be not-for-profit, despite the aggressive rising costs we are facing. Now there’s the very real possibility that these plans, as well as 34 years of history, could all be lost.
“We want to do everything we can to fight to stay here and keep the area more affordable for Britain’s rich vein of creative talent.”
“The government has already acknowledged the need for agent-of-change principles to be applied whenever a new development threatens the existence of an important cultural asset,” adds Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust. “Strongroom plainly fulfils that criteria, both as a recording studio and a live music centre. We hope Hackney will take appropriate action during the planning process so that Strongroom enjoys the full protections intended by the National Planning Policy Framework.”
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Agent of change principle adopted in Scotland
The agent-of-change principle – which makes developers building near existing businesses, such as music venues, responsible for addressing noise issues – is to be written into Scottish planning policy, following a successful campaign by the British and Scottish live music industries.
The devolved Scottish government will follow Westminster’s lead in including agent of change in the next revision of its national planning framework and Scottish planning policy, setting out guidelines to which it expects planning authorities to adhere.
“The Scottish government recognises the significant cultural and economic contribution of our music industry,” says Scotland’s housing minister, Kevin Stewart MSP. “It is only right we do what we can to protect the established and emerging musical talent and that is why we are embedding the agent of change principle in our planning guidance. I have asked the chief planner to write to all planning authorities asking them to act now.
“Music venues should not have to make high cost changes or deal with expensive disputes because of new developments. Developers will be responsible for identifying and solving any potential issues with noise, giving residents of new homes a better quality of life and allowing our music venues to continue to operate.”
“The news that the agent-of-change principle will be adopted into Scottish planning policy is a huge step in protecting Scotland’s live music scene,” says Geoff Ellis, who was one of several venue owners calling for the agent-of-change principle to be adopted in Scotland. “It removes a crippling threat that loomed over our music venues for too long.”
“It is only right we do what we can to protect established and emerging musical talent”
“We want to thank Kevin Stewart MSP for championing agent of change and striving for it to be implemented immediately. We also want to give special thanks to Scottish music fans for their support in lobbying MSPs to push for this change. They’ve proved, once again, why they’re the best fans in the world.”
“This is a landmark victory for all those who fought so hard to safeguard the future of music venues in Scotland and across the UK, from grassroots community activists to global music stars who have spent years calling for agent of change,” adds Michael Dugher, chief executive of umbrella organisation UK Music. “We are delighted the Scottish government has thrown its support behind our agent of change plan and is toughening the rules to protect grassroots music venues. It’s a tremendous boost for the live music industry.
“Music tourism makes a huge contribution to Scotland, bringing enjoyment to millions and generating £334 million to the local economy. Supporting grassroots venues is key to maintaining the Scotland’s vibrant and diverse music scene, as well as making sure we have the talent pipeline to maintain the our position as a global force in music.
“It’s great that Scottish ministers have listened and responded so positively to UK Music, Music Venue Trust and other industry campaigners, all of whom have worked so hard to make sure grassroots venues get the help and protection they need. Lewis Macdonald MSP deserves particular recognition for the tireless dedication and leadership he has shown to deliver this landmark change in Scotland.”
Venues push for agent of change in Scotland
The owners of some of Glasgow’s leading venues have joined forces to drum up support for the agent-of-change principle north of the Scottish border, following the recent announcement from Westminster it plans to write agent of change into UK planning guidance.
The group – which includes King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (300-cap.) owner DF Concerts, along with SWG3 (450-cap.), Sub Club (410-cap.), O2 Academy (2,500-cap.) and O2 ABC (1,362-cap.) – are calling for other venue owners, music fans and any other interested parties to push for the agent-of-change principle to be adopted by Scotland’s Local Government Committee by visiting AgentOfChangeScotland.wordpress.com by 2 February.
Unlike England and Wales, there is no protection in place in Scotland to protect established businesses from development in surrounding areas. Agent of change, if adopted, would make developers building new homes near Scottish venues responsible for addressing noise issues.
A spokesperson for the campaign tells IQ that while the so-called Spellar bill to introduce agent of change is backed by the British government, it will also need to be separately adopted by the devolved Scottish government to take effect in Scotland.
“Scottish planning guidance must be brought into line urgently”
DF Concerts & Events CEO Geoff Ellis says: “Right now, music venues in Scotland are under threat and we need to act quickly to protect their future. Our venues are vital – they’re incubators for future headline acts, bring communities together through live concerts and generate £334 million for the Scottish tourism economy – so its therefore crucial we make sure they remain open.
“But to do this, we need to be heard, which is why we’re asking for the public, venue owners, people working in the creative industries and everyone who wants to protect these venues to work with us in pushing for agent of change. The UK government in Westminster has now implemented this move but it doesn’t yet apply up here, so we need the people of Scotland to contact the Local Government Committee to ensure our venues have the same level of protection.”
“Mike Grieve, MD of Sub Club, adds: “Nightlife is a massive contributor to the cultural wellbeing of our city. It’s vital that Glasgow’s creative community is protected from the threat posed by developers, many of whom seem apathetic to the concerns of music and arts venues, some of which may well be forced to close due to inadequate soundproofing in proposed new buildings.
“The agent-of-change principle has been adopted into planning guidance in England and Wales, and has now passed through a second reading in the UK parliament. Scottish planning guidance must be brought into line urgently if we want to avoid losing the venues which create the very conditions which most appeal to visitors to the city in the first place.”
“A seismic victory”: UK govt backs of agent of change
The British government has announced plans to adopt the agent-of-change principle into planning law, in an announcement welcomed as a “seismic victory” for music venues by UK Music chief exec Michael Dugher.
Housing secretary Sajid Javid announced today the National Planning Policy Framework, with which local authorities are legally bound to comply, will be amended to include “detailed reference” to agent of change, making housing developers building new homes near UK venues responsible for addressing noise issues.
The news follows the introduction of a ‘ten-minute bill’ by John Spellar MP, backed by industry associations including UK Music and Music Venue Trust, in parliament last week. Dugher said at the time he hoped the government would “listen to the strength of feeling from grassroots campaigners, communities from up and down the country, artists, songwriters and MPs from all parties” and back Spellar’s bill.
And listen it has – Javid (pictured) explains: “Music venues play a vital role in our communities, bringing people together and contributing to the local economy and supporting the country’s grassroots music culture.
“I have always thought it unfair that the burden is on long-standing music venues to solve noise issues when property developers choose to build nearby. That’s why I consulted on this in February last year as part of the housing white paper.
“I have always thought it unfair that the burden is on long-standing music venues to solve noise issues”
“I am pleased to finally have an opportunity to right this wrong and also give more peace of mind to new residents moving into local properties.”
“This is a seismic victory for all those who fought so hard to safeguard the future of music venues across the UK, from grassroots community activists to Britain’s global music stars who have spent years calling for agent of change and recently supported the Spellar bill,” says Dugher.
“It’s great that ministers have listened and are prepared to work with UK Music and others from the industry, including the Music Venue Trust, to make sure grassroots venues get the support and protections they need,” he adds.
Spellar says: “I am delighted that the Government have listened to grassroots venues and campaigners that have supported the safeguards contained in my Planning (Agent of Change) Bill. This announcement is fantastic news.
“While we need to iron out the final details when considering the draft framework, there is a real hope that these new provisions could be law by the summer.”
Music legends turn out for agent of change
British artists, politicians and senior music industry figures headed to Westminster this morning in support of John Spellar MP’s bill to enshrine the agent-of-change principle in UK law.
The proposed legislation, announced at Venues Day last October, would require property developers to take into account pre-existing businesses, like music venues, before proceeding with a project, and is backed as a crucial weapon in the fight against venue closures by industry groups such as Music Venue Trust, UK Music and the Musicians’ Union.
The Planning (Agent of Change) Bill has the backing of at least 75 MPs and peers, including former culture minister Ed Vaizey, as well as artists including Sir Paul McCartney, Ray Davies, Glen Matlock, Chrissie Hynde, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Billy Bragg, Craig David, Feargal Sharkey and Brian Eno.
“So many of the bottom rungs of the ladder have been taken away”
Speaking to IQ before the bill’s first reading in parliament today, Mason said he is backing the Spellar bill to protect venues as a lifeline for “young musicians in the 21st century”. “It’s a much tougher environment now than it ever was,” he explained. “So many of the bottom rungs of the ladder have been taken away … it’s important for young people to feel like they could have a career in music if they wanted it.”
J. Willgoose, Esq., one third of Public Service Broadcasting, said it’s important artists who have graduated on from grassroots venues don’t “pull up the ladder behind us”. “We were the beneficiaries of being one of the last generations of musicians who had a fertile, up-and-coming pub and club scene, which we benefited from enormously,” he said.
“If you look at some of the venues we played in early days, and how many of them have now closed, especially in London, it’s a frighteningly high percentage.”
“Moving to a city then complaining about the noise from venues is like moving to the country and complaining about the smell of cow muck”
Bragg told IQ that while agent of change won’t tackle the symptoms of the problems facing music venues – chiefly low interest rates making home ownership the only way to make a solid return on investment, leading to a boom in development – it is “going to put the onus on properly developments to recognise that they’re building in an area which is a cultural hub, and that’s really, really important”. (He joked that moving to a city then complaining about the noise from venues is like “moving to the country and complaining about the smell of cow muck”.)
UK Music chief executive praised the “great turnout” for the pre-bill reading photocall, opposite the houses of parliament, and said he hopes ministers will “listen to the strength of feeling from grassroots campaigners, communities from up and down the country, artists, songwriters and MPs from all parties. It’s time now to back the act and make that change that we need.”
The bill was well received by a majority of MPs – or, in parliamentary jargon, the ayes had it – and will proceed to its second reading on 19 January. Spellar’s presentation of the bill can be viewed on the Parliamentlive.tv website.
Delight as Agent of Change adopted in London
To the delight of grassroots music venue campaigners in the city, London has adopted the Agent of Change principle.
Mayor Sadiq Khan added the directive to the new London Plan – a vital strategic document which sets out a vision for the development of the city. It means property developers have to take into account pre-existing businesses, such as music venues, when applying for planning permission. For example, the developer of new flats has to take responsibility for soundproofing to avoid the risk of new neighbours complaining about noise from a existing venue.
“It’s going to give grassroots venues greater confidence”
The move is the culmination of three years of hard campaigning by the Music Venue Trust (MVT) and music industry umbrella organisation UK Music. MVT strategic director Beverley Whitrick said: “We’re really pleased. It’s going to give grassroots venues greater confidence because it shows they’re being taken a bit more seriously and that there’s a wish to alleviate some of the pressures they face.
“This sends a signal to other administrations around the UK that this can be done.”
But the campaign doesn’t stop there. The MVT has vowed to continue its fight until the Agent of Change principle is adopted into UK law.
On 10 January 2018, MP John Spellar is expected to introduce a Private Members Bill in the House of Commons calling on the government to make this a nationwide policy. His bill is backed across party lines, by former culture minister Ed Vaizey and the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on music, David Warburton.
Culture secretary Karen Bradley has indicated the government would be willing to support Spellar’s bill, telling him in a recent parliamentary session that her office is already “working with the Department for Communities and Local Government to look at the proposition that has been put forward.”
In Wales, the government has pledged to introduce Agent of Change into future Planning Policy, while in Scotland, Lewis Macdonald MSP has been fighting to bring it into Scottish Planning Law.
“Developers aren’t the only pressure facing grassroots venues,” adds Whitrick. “Business rates, cultural funding and the differences in licensing are some of the other areas we’ll continue to campaign on.”
The Agent of Change principle was adopted in the Australian state of Victoria in 2014, following a campaign by music industry body Music Victoria.
Cross-party support grows for agent of change in UK
Parliamentary support is mounting for a new law in the UK to protect music venues, with two influential MPs – former culture minister Ed Vaizey and the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on music, David Warburton – now having endorsed the proposal.
Industry umbrella group UK Music is spearheading the campaign to have the agent-of-change principle, which would force property developers to take into account the impact of any new scheme on preexisting businesses, such as music venues, before going ahead with their plans, enshrined in law. That could mean, for example, the developer of new flats taking responsibility for soundproofing to avoid the risk of new neighbours complaining about noise from a existing venue.
The proposals are being brought forward at Westminster by Labour MP and former government minister John Spellar, who announced his support for the proposed legislation at Venues Day last month.
As of last May, agent of change is already included in planning guidance in England, but is not compulsory. The proposed new law would place a burden on the developer to ensure solutions are in place to mitigate the potential impact of their scheme on existing businesses across the entire United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
“It’s now time to make a change and stand up for common sense”
He will table his proposed new law next month, with a debate in the House of Commons to follow early next year. Culture secretary Karen Bradley has indicated the government would be willing to support Spellar’s bill, telling him in a recent parliamentary session that her office is already “working with the Department for Communities and Local Government to look at the proposition that has been put forward.”
Announcing his support, Vaizey comments: “In order for our creative industries to continue to flourish, it is essential that we do all we can to protect our country’s brilliant grassroots venues. These venues are the lifeblood of the UK music scene, a source of immense pride for communities and a springboard for many artists’ success. Adopting agent of change into existing planning laws is therefore an important step in safeguarding the future of these vital platforms.”
Warburton, a former composer, adds: “Putting the agent-of-change principle firmly into law is simple common sense. Any new development, whether it’s a residential project near a music venue or a music venue opening next to properties, should be responsible for the costs of protecting against the noise – because they’re the ones making the change to the environment.
“It’s crazy that you can build right next door to a music venue and then demand they pay for the soundproofing you need. A huge number of popular venues are facing closure because the law just isn’t working fairly – so it’s now time to make a change and stand up for common sense.”
Venues Day: John Spellar in push for UK-wide agent of change
Michael Dugher, the chief executive of UK Music, yesterday unveiled fresh plans to protect music venues threatened with closure.
Speaking at Music Venue Trust’s fourth Venues Day event at Ministry of Sound in London, Dugher said the the umbrella organisation had partnered with Labour MP John Spellar to push in parliament a radical plan to enshrine the agent-of-change principle – which would require property developers to take into account pre-existing businesses, like music venues, before proceeding with a project – in UK law.
Since last May, agent of change is already included in planning guidance in England, but is not compulsory. The proposed new law would would place a burden on the developer to make sure solutions are in place to mitigate the potential impact of their scheme on existing businesses across the entire United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Spellar will outline the measures in a backbench ‘ten-minute rule’ bill later this year and hopes to win government support for the legislation.
“I hope everyone will join UK Music in our battle to get agent of change on to the statue book”
“Enshrining agent of change in law would be a critical weapon to help music venues across the UK in their fight for survival,” says Dugher. “The threat from developers, along with soaring business rates and licensing regulations, could prove a lethal cocktail for many venues unless we work together to help them survive and thrive.
“In particular, these are challenging times for small and grassroots venues which play a crucial role in nurturing new talent and helping artists get their big break. I hope everyone will join UK Music in our battle to get agent of change on to the statue book so we can ensure the continued vibrancy and diversity of our fantastic music venues.”
Spellar adds: “I’m delighted to be working with UK Music to win support for the agent-of-change principle.
“More than 30 million people attended live music events last year at venues across the UK. The live music industry makes a major contribution to both our economy, employment and our culture. It must be safeguarded.”