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Licensing Act “fundamentally flawed”, rules Lords

The Licensing Act 2003, which governs the issuing of entertainment licences for live music in the UK, is “fundamentally flawed”, a House of Lords committee has found.

Among the recommendations of the Licensing Act 2003 committee, which led a ten-month inquiry into the legislation, are the abolition of local-authority planning committees, with licensing instead integrated with planning applications; the abolition of ‘late-night levies’ – or extra charges levied on venues to pay for the cost of of policing – which were described as “fundamentally wrong in principle and in practice”; and setting of licensing fees by local government rather than nationally.

The committee also said the agent-of-change principle – which “would require anyone instigating a new building development or a change in land use […] to take into account the nearby properties and their functions”, and was introduced in a limited form last summer – should be adopted nationally in in both planning and licensing guidance, “to help protect both licensed premises and local residents from consequences arising from any new built development in their nearby vicinity”.

The inquiry additionally recommended that disabled people’s access be considered when granting licences, stating: “Scotland’s example should also be followed in helping disabled people to access licensed premises by requiring an application for a premises licence to include a disabled access statement.”

Committee chairman Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (pictured) comments: “The committee was shocked by some of the evidence it received on hearings before licensing committees. Their decisions have been described as ‘something of a lottery’, ‘lacking formality’ and ‘indifferent’, with some ‘scandalous misuses of the powers of elected local councillors’.

“Pubs, clubs and live music venues are a vital part of our cultural identity. Any decline in our cities’ world-famous nightlife ought to be prevented and the businesses supported”

“Pubs, clubs and live music venues are a vital part of our cultural identity. Any decline in our cities’ world-famous nightlife ought to be prevented and the businesses supported. But the night-time economy needs regulating; even in these areas of cities, residents have their rights. The current systems – early-morning restriction orders and late-night levies – are not being used because they do not work.”

Industry umbrella group UK Music welcomed the Lords’ recommendations, but expressed its disappointment at the failure of an amendment to the act that would have required local authorities to consider the “social or cultural benefits” of venues when granting licences.

Its chief executive, Jo Dipple, says: “We agree with the committee when it says the Licensing Act is fundamentally flawed. That is why the Live Music Act was unanimously supported when proposed as a private-member’s bill by Lord Clement-Jones. It is welcome, therefore, that the Lords’ committee report clearly recognises the impact of the Live Music Act. UK Music agrees that more needs to be done to spread awareness of its benefits to local and national government.

“UK Music asks government to take forward the Lords suggestion that a full agent-of-change principle for planning and licensing guidance be introduced. If implemented, recommendations to introduce an agent-of-change principle and ditch the late-night levy will make a big difference to the provision of music across the UK’s cities and regions. A proposed ‘fifth objective’ for licensing decisions, which would enable local authorities to weigh up positive cultural impacts, would also have helped, and it is a pity the committee did not accept this.”


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Gold Coast taskforce bids to create ‘new Austin’

Local authorities in Gold Coast, Queensland, have unveiled plans for a ‘live music taskforce’ they hope will transform the Australian city – home to more than half a million people – into a live music capital.

The taskforce is one of the recommendations of the Live Music Action Plan 2017–2020 – the final version of which will be put before Gold Coast City Council next year – which seeks to build on “signature events” such as the Blues on Broadbeach and Bleach* festivals, “both of which continue to grow, attracting visitors to the city with quality music the key attraction” to boost its music economy in the run-up to its hosting the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

The report, presented to the city’s Economic Development and Major Projects Committee on 27 October, draws a parallel between Gold Coast and Austin, Texas (the ‘live music capital of the world’), both in their “thriving youth demographic” and similar climate. “As evidenced by the Austin, Texas, benchmark,” it reads, “there is an appetite for live music amongst young professionals and 25–39-year-olds.”

Problems currently facing artists, promoters and venues in the city include a “regulatory system […] perceived by stakeholders as prohibitive for venues and performers, and a barrier to the genuine development and well-being of the live music sector on the Gold Coast”, the report says. “This incorporates the liquor licensing regime, sound restrictions, sound measuring methods, complaint handling mechanisms and the nature of interactions with local and state compliance authorities, which are described by stakeholders as discouraging and even intimidating in some cases.”

The taskforce will “review current planning, regulatory and compliance processes and requirements with a view to reducing barriers for the delivery of live music in Gold Coast”

It also highlights a need for more venues; especially larger ones; for increased investment and the creation of ‘evening economy zones’, as in the Sunshine Coast; an overhaul of “archaic, out of date” noise restrictions, which are the same in every venue; and for lifting the city-wide ban on postering. In addition, research by Griffin University suggests Gold Coast “struggles with a ‘bikies’ image and the Gold Coast Cops TV show”, while the effect of Queensland’s controversial lock-out laws on “the delivery of live music on the Gold Coast are yet to be determined”.

The finalised Live Music Action Plan will be presented to the council in May 2017 following an audit of the city’s music venues and the establishment of a ‘live music regulatory taskforce’ to “review current planning, regulatory and compliance processes and requirements, with a view to reducing barriers for the delivery of live music on the Gold Coast”.

While Gold Coast’s efforts may be successful in increasing the number of Australian musicians playing in the city, there could be little effect on foreign ones: Live Performance Australia warned earlier this month that an increase of up to 600% in visas fees would act as a “major disincentive for international artists” to tour Australia.


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