Michael Dugher, former shadow Culture Secretary and CEO of UK Music, calls on the Government to save grassroots music venues through a set of ‘simple’ changes to existing planning rules.
We have seen how music has brought people together after the terrible events that have rocked Britain recently.
The One Love benefit concert held after the Manchester attack was a night of unity and joy for 50,000 fans at Old Trafford with almost 15 million watching on TV.
A similar all-star line-up is now working on a charity single to raise money for the victims of the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower.
Music is in our DNA and helps heal and unite people in the most trying of times. But it does not exist in a vacuum. Many music venues that gave some of today’s big-name artists their first break are now struggling to survive.
Just like the artists they helped, those venues need a break if they are to continue their vital role supporting the industry and ensuring a healthy music scene across the UK.
Theresa May and the Government have the power to offer that help in the Queen’s Speech this week by making a small change to planning rules.
UK Music is campaigning for the introduction of a statutory “agent of change” to help music venues survive.
Put simply, that means that if new homes or offices are built near pre-existing businesses like live music venues, the onus is on the developer to make sure solutions are in place to mitigate the impact of any new development on those businesses.
For example, new homes may increase the likelihood of noise complaints that could threaten a live music venue. The “agent of change” principle would require those responsible for the new homes to put measures in place to allow venues to continue to operate and co-exist.
The pressure on the Government and local authorities to help supply new housing means it is increasingly likely that new homes and existing music venues are going to become neighbours and will have to live together. That’s why we need action to protect those live music venues.
In the last decade, we have seen a sharp fall of 35% in the total number of grassroots venues in the UK. That cannot be allowed to continue.
The Government has a chance with the Queen’s Speech and this new Parliamentary session to help us tackle that threat and ensure the UK continues to have a vibrant live music scene.
In Wales, I met those behind the Save Womanby Street campaign – set up to respond the threats to the city’s music quarter and to fight for the area to be recognised as an area of cultural significance.
The Government in Wales is already responding to the problem of helping music venues. Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths announced in May that she will revise Welsh national planning policy to include an explicit reference to the “agent of change” principle.
She will also update planning policy guidelines to allow the designation of areas of cultural significance for music through development plans.
We need similar urgent action from the Government at Westminster to given music venues greater protection and help them thrive.
As the fantastic Music Venue Trust have highlighted, grassroots music venues have played a vital nurturing role in the development of careers of a succession of British musicians over the past 60 years – from The Beatles at the Cavern in Liverpool, The Clash at 100 Club in London, The Undertones at the Casbah in Derry, Duran Duran at Rum Runner in Birmingham, Radiohead at Jericho Tavern in Oxford, Idlewild at Subway in Edinburgh and Super Furry Animals at Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff.
All three of the UK’s highest grossing live music attractions in 2017 – Adele, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay – started their careers with extensive touring of grassroots music venues.
With the uncertainty of Brexit on the horizon, ministers should be doing all they can to protect jobs in the music industry and help the sector grow.
By making a few simple changes to planning rules, the Government can help safeguard the UK live music industry and continue bringing people together.
Michael Dugher is CEO of UK Music and a former shadow Culture Secretary and MP