Britain's small music venues face a lot of threats right now. There are falling audiences, low ticket prices, wider problems in the music industry and a host of other day-to-day challenges which make them very difficult to keep open. But in the middle of all that, we have accidentally let them fall prey to a combination of planning and noise laws that seriously threatens the future of all of them.
Under the coalition government, developers are being encouraged by planning law amendments to bring disused spaces back into use. The UK needs more housing, and the encouragement to revitalise UK city centres by taking back abandoned buildings, office spaces and warehouses is to be welcomed. But what nobody noticed or considered when these ideas were being brought forward is where those buildings are, and, importantly, what is next to them. The failure to address the environments in those locations is causing an avalanche of problems for music venues. In the middle of all their other problems, we have given our music venues another one, and this one is too big for them to fight on their own.
UK Law has some pretty odd quirky things left in it from Ye Olde Days of Yore. Did you know that it is illegal to order or permit any servant to stand on the sill of any window to clean or paint it? Or that if you have the plague you mustn't flag down a taxi or try and ride on a bus? Or that we have a special law that makes it illegal under the terms of the Prohibition and Inspections Act of 1998 to cause a nuclear explosion? I'm a betting man. I'm willing to lay good money that you weren't planning to do any of those things. But I'm also guessing that you don't know that under UK Law you can build flats directly on top of a music venue, move the residents in, complain about the noise..... and that UK Law says that the music venue must pay thousands of pounds to prevent the noise from bothering you or it will receive a fine, a noise abatement notice and, ultimately, be shut just to please you.
Following my declaration that I intend to use these same laws to move to Staithes and shut down the UK Fishing Industry, a lot of people got in touch with our organisation the Music Venue Trust to ask what they could do to help. And today Frank Turner, working with the Trust, and supported by Musicians' Union, UK Music and Music Industries Association has launched a campaign to change the law and adopt the Agent of Change principle. The petition is live right now on Change.org and in just a few hours thousands of people have already signed. You can sign too. Just click right here and watch Frank explain why it's important and what we need to change.
The Agent of Change Principle is not complicated or controversial, it's simple common sense: Agent of Change says that the person or business responsible for the change is responsible for managing the impact of the change.
This means that an apartment block to be built near an established live music venue would have to pay for soundproofing, while a live music venue opening in a residential area would be responsible for the costs. A resident who moves next door to a music venue would, in law, be assessed as having made that decision understanding that there's going to be some music noise, and a music venue that buys a new PA would be expected to carry out tests to make sure its noise emissions don't increase.
At the moment, UK law says that whoever is making a nuisance is always responsible for that nuisance. How long it has existed, whether there were any historic instances of the same noise being a nuisance, if somebody moved right next door to the noise and decided it was a nuisance, these are all, unbelievably, currently irrelevant to British law. If a noise exists, you can deliberately move next to it and demand it be turned off and UK law will support you. You can build balsa wood huts next door to a music venue and simply wait for your residents to complain and the venue will have to pay all the costs to reduce their noise.
Music venues are in the frontline of the impact of our current laws, with an avalanche of cases potentially closing down music across the UK. But these are not the only community activities under attack. Complaints have been made against church bells, a new development next to a speedway race track where the residents don't like the sound of the bikes, the brand new build next to a farm where the sheep. All now, according to British law, too loud and a nuisance.
Community activities and cultural activities across the UK are under threat - music venues are just the first affected.
Agent of Change has been trialed and tested in Australia and it works; better planning, better developments, people thinking about what exists where they want to live and how they will live there, music venues and others thinking more about their neighbours.
It's our music, let's all work together to bring Agent of Change to the UK and protect it.
And try not to leave our servants out on the windowsills or accidentally start any thermo-nuclear wars while we're at it.