The Music Venues Trust and UK Music estimate that over a third of music venues have closed over the past decade - which is why this Wednesday in the House of Commons I am bringing forward the Planning (Agent of Change) Bill.
This Bill is designed to protect existing music venues from facing closure or crippling cost arising from development of new residential properties in their vicinity.
What the Bill will do in practice is that when buildings near a music venue are converted to residential use or a new development is put up, the onus will be on the developer – not the venue – to ensure the new dwellings are protected from factors (particularly noise) which could be significantly disrupting to residents. The present situation, where this is not the case, is having a crippling effect on music venues.
Many Parliamentary colleagues have examples of much loved venues in their area that have been closed or are under threat. That is why there has been such widespread and cross-party support for this Bill.
The Bill is not anti-development either, in fact it seeks to stop the loss of character and iconic places in neighbourhoods – a significant part of what made areas in question attractive to developers in the first place.
The impact of closures on musicians is why this Bill is being supported by the Musicians Union. Less venues means less work, less opportunity to develop talent or even find out that you are not going to make it in the industry, but also to move up from amateur to part-time, to full-time, to national or even international stardom. If the present situation does not change, we are in danger of taking away the ladder that has served individual musicians and the Music Industry so well for so long.
As Brexit is happening and we face an uncertain future, it’s vitally important that Britain is made more efficient and effective across the board and that we maximise every possible advantage that Britain has.
The British music industry is one hell of an advantage.
Not only are domestic music sales rising, but we are second to the United States in international reach and sales. It’s a huge boost to Britain’s standing around the world and our soft power, let alone it being a crucial part of our tourism offer.
However, there are real concerns that the industry is now depending on a great past, rather than refreshing the pipeline with new talent. Mining rather than farming our musical heritage. It is also narrowing a route of opportunity for youngsters, many from our deprived inner cities and left behind industrial towns. As a West Midlands MP proud to represent part of an urban area which gave birth to Heavy Metal, I tend to focus on the cities and conurbations. However, the problem can be as acute in smaller towns and rural areas, where the loss of venues can cause difficulty in retaining young people and quickens their drift to bigger cities.
The advantages of the British Music and entertainment industry are not limited to London, but are also in our other great centres round the country. Many of which are, like Liverpool, Birmingham, and Manchester, attracting increasing foreign investment and work. Companies clearly initially locate for a range of hard headed, financial and economic reasons. But the quality of life is also significant.
In particular, it’s about the answer to the basic question (not just aimed at companies but also the staff they hope to attract), would I want to live there?
This is particularly relevant to the highly mobile, technically skilled and talented international and multinational workforce who are being enticed to move abroad after Brexit. Would you and your family, children or your employees prefer to live in London, Birmingham or Manchester or in Frankfurt?
I hope the Government supports this Bill and acts to preserve our iconic music venues, supports one of Britain’s most successful industries and supports one of the key reasons people want to live in and work in the UK.
John Spellar is the Labour MP for Warley