BRIEF SUMMARY

In the years between 2005-2016 the numbers of night clubs in the UK almost halved with London alone seeing a decrease of one-third[1], many of them closing due to issues brought around by oppressive licensing and planning policies that made it impossible for these legitimate independent businesses to thrive. In 2016, the UK’s arguably most prominent nightclub, Fabric, faced threats of permanent closure by the council, with its license revoked for 6 months while a costly trial period took place. After months of lobbying, fundraising and thousands of letters of support, the council reinstated their license, but demanded that Fabric adhere to a series of severe and arguably detrimental reopening conditions. 4 years on it seems that the venue's closure was a pivotal moment in the UK’s nightclub scene, bringing into light the oppressive relationship that club culture has with planning and policy  Since then several new policies have been enacted in a bid to save the UK’s damaged music industry. Details and analysis of policies issued by the GLA have been explored in further detail below.

In the UK nightclubs do not only need policies that protect them, but also ones that will encourage developers to design sub-cultural spaces into our cities and neighbourhoods. The Draft London Plan 2019 and the new whitepaper for planning reform, ‘Planning for the Future’, each address nightclubs as either suitable for meanwhile spaces or for town centre regeneration. Though both situations may be solutions that work for the city, they are not necessarily appropriate for the scene itself. Rave culture is already plagued with a multitude of restrictions ranging from noise restrictions, anti-social behaviour restrictions, drugs and alcohol restrictions and health and safety restrictions. Running a venue is a job that already demands a great deal of time and energy for very little financial reward; this is only exaggerated by being designated a meanwhile use space. For an industry where events are sometimes booked over a year in advance, businesses need certainty about the future of their space, so they can operate and plan accordingly. The ecosystem that surrounds club culture is extensive and complex and the individuals and professionals that contribute to it deserve security in their careers, just like any other industry.

The newly implemented policies (mentioned below) will provide the necessary legal frameworks to halt the decline of venues in the UK, but it is questionable as to whether they are enough to reverse the effects. Club culture needs policies and strategies that push for the appropriate spatial conditions to allow for new sub-cultural venues to thrive. These venues do not thrive in ‘beautiful’ and over-designed spaces. They thrive in the imperfect charm of a railway arch, or amongst the industrial wasteland of an old sugar mill, for example. By pursuing beauty and detailed design in every part of a new development, club culture is, perhaps unintentionally, being designed out of the city. We need strategy that explicitly highlights the importance of back streets, industrial landscapes, gritty basements and undisclosed entrances, and spatial designers that strategically integrate these spaces into developments alongside the necessary health, safety and environmental policies. The push for these spaces to be designed into the city should start with policy, but the conversation must also be carried throughout the whole legislative and planning framework, from policy to strategy, planning, development, architecture and construction.

[1] Kries, M., Eisenbrand, J., Rossi, C. and Thietz, K. (2018). Night Fever: Designing Club Culture 1960 - Today. Weil am Rhein: Vitra Design Museum, p.22.

ATTEMPTING TO UNDERSTAND the POLITICAL CIRCUIT

As I have investigated deeper into the inner relationships between legislation, policy, strategy, planning and development, the more complex and ambiguous I have found the system to be. The attempt to visualise my findings in a circuit diagram seemed a fitting way to document the complexities that the planning system operates within. The diagram (above) is by no means complete, and there are undoubtedly several inaccuracies in how certain disciplines connect. However, the very act of drawing the diagram has in itself exposed one of the main issues of the legal framework: communication. How are venue owners meant to know who to talk to, what documents to look at, what can and cannot be done to help their venue, or even how to open a venue, when the system is so complex that it’s impossible to understand where to even begin. At present the most significant mediator between the government and grassroots music venues is the Music Venue Trust (MVT), a charity organisation that helps to improve, maintain and organise grassroots music venues in the UK. The MVT seems to have been the main organisation that has driven the direction of policy, acting as professionals who understand the legal framework and are able to speak both languages of law and music culture. Throughout the pandemic they have been instrumental to businesses all over the country. The union that will be a part of my future practice is intended to sit alongside the MVT as a mediator between the government, spatial designers and nightclubs.

 

IDENTIFYING POLICIES

CONTINUE

Greater London Authority, n.d. Culture for all Londoners 2018. London: GLA, p.78-79.

 

CULTURE FOR ALL LONDONERS

Cultural Strategy for London, GLA, 2018

In 2018 the Sadiq Khan and the GLA issued the ‘Cultural Strategy for Londoners’ that specifically mentioned ‘nightclubs’ for the first time. Nightclubs are mentioned specifically when talking about the spaces dedicated for LGBTQI+ communities and for sound design in city planning. A short paragraph explaining what developers can do to mitigate noise is shown below. Where the Cultural Strategy uses the word ‘can’, club culture demands that it uses the word ‘must’. Following the Cultural Strategy, in March 2019 the GLA released a Cultural Infrastructure Plan that outlines the steps it will take in order to ensure cultural spaces are provided for in future development of the city.

Greater London Authority, n.d. Culture for all Londoners 2018. London: GLA, p.78-79.

Greater London Authority, n.d. Culture for all Londoners 2018. London: GLA, p.78-79.

However, policy D13 in the Draft London Plan also states:

’C. New noise and other nuisance-generating development proposed close to residential and other noise-sensitive uses should put in place measures to mitigate and manage any noise impacts for neighbouring residents and businesses.’[2]

This means that responsibility to mitigate noise and nuisance is always placed on any new user or development in a neighbourhood. With the population in London increasing every year and the number of houses and apartments also on the rise, the biggest challenge for nightclubs now is that there are simply no more suitable spaces for a new venue to open. These spaces are rapidly being designed out of the city.

[1] Greater London Authority, n.d. The Draft London Plan 2019. London: GLA, p.162.

[2] Greater London Authority, n.d. The Draft London Plan 2019. London: GLA, p.162.

Cultural Strategy for London, GLA, 2018

In the same year the ‘Agent of change’ principle, now policy D13 in the Draft London Plan 2019, was first mentioned in the National Planning Policy Framework. This policy ‘places the responsibility for mitigating impacts from existing noise and other nuisance-generating activities or uses on the proposed new noise-sensitive development.’[1] This essentially means if a developer wants to build a block of flats on the plot next to a nightclub, for example, the responsibility to mitigate noise and nuisance for the prospective renters is placed on the developer instead of on the existing nightclub. This policy can be considered as another of the progressive steps from the Government towards ensuring the protection of nightclubs in from inevitable developments.

Agent of change

 
 

Housing, Communities and Local Government, 2019. National Planning Policy Framework. London: APS Group, p.52

POLICY HC5, HC6 + HC7

The Draft London Plan, GLA, 2019

Use the arrows to flick through!

In 2019 the GLA issued the Draft London Plan 2019, with its most recent instalment released in February 2020. The plan included policies HC5 and HC6, ‘Supporting London’s culture and creative industries’ and ‘Supporting London’s night-time economy’ respectively, which both acknowledge the importance of social gathering and dance spaces for ‘economic and social value’[1]

 

Although policies HC5 and HC6 are both strong and progressive attempts to support and protect the night-time and creative industries, there is always scope for improvement. Policy is typically reluctant to outline any specifics, but for the dance music industry a dedicated policy could be necessary to encourage the culture to grow. Nightclubs are often categorised in the same group as late-night bars and restaurants in policy and planning documents, but the specific set of conditions that they need to operate successfully is very different. It is easy to sell the idea of food markets and bars to the local community but the perspective changes completely when selling the idea of a music venue or nightclub. The set of conditions that nightclubs need to operate successfully is far more nuanced than that of a restaurant or bar and so the policies that dictate them should also be.

Policy HC7 ‘Protecting Public Houses’ has been included in the Draft London Plan following decades of closures of England’s historical pubs and drinking houses. Although the UK’s dance music scene is comparatively young, its cultural and historical significance is equally as important, with its reputation and status respected across the globe. The venues which cultivate this generative and diverse scene however, have been neglected by the government and subsequently are not able to uphold the high reputation that the UK music scene has. If pubs can have a dedicated chapter in the Draft London Plan, then nightclubs and grassroots music venues deserve the same. This refers to a policy proposition that I did in December 2019 for Unit 04.  

[1] Greater London Authority, n.d. The Draft London Plan 2019. London: GLA, p.207.

 

THE DRAFT LONDON PLAN PROPOSITION

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In December 2019 I proposed an additional chapter for the Draft London Plan 2019. Constructed by taking an existing chapter entitled 'Protecting London's Night-Time Economy' and replacing the words 'night-time economy' with 'electronic music venues' or another appropriate alternative, as well as adding in additional chapters that I thought to be relevant. The intention was not to replace chapter HC6, but instead to input an additional chapter that was specifically tailored to electronic music venues, similarly to that of HC7 ‘Protecting public houses’ that specifically speaks of pubs and drinking establishments.

As an art installation the chapter was commissioned to be painted onto the walls of FOLD, an electronic nightclub situated in Canning Town, for Resident Advisor's worldwide party series 'twenty-four/seven'. At the time FOLD were undergoing a turbulent legal battle with the local authorities for the retention of license following accusations of illegal activity. The drawing, initially a commission as a part of my practice, ended up being a gift to FOLD, acting as a beacon of hope for the owners, staff and ravers who share a special connection to the venue. The drawing took 18 hours to install and remains on the walls of the venue today.

The proposition was an adaptation of policy HC6 from the October 2019 revision. The latest Draft London Plan was released in February 2020 and contains an updated and much more comprehensive chapter than the one I had originally edited for my propositional chapter. When considering HC6 ‘Supporting the night-time economy’ to be a chapter dedicated to all industries that occur between 11pm-7am then I think the latest version provides strong and sufficient infrastructures to make these industries as safe and enjoyable as possible and is a successful step towards changing the perception of night time industries in our city.