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Labour MPs push for ‘agent of change’ to be added to new planning legislation

By | Published on Tuesday 8 December 2015

Houses Of Parliament

An ‘agent of change’ rule could be added to the government’s in-development Housing And Planning Bill thanks to an amendment tabled by two Labour MPs.

As previously reported, the agent of change principle says that if a property developer constructs or converts a building next to a music venue, it must take responsibility for ensuring that the new development can co-exist with said venue, for example, paying for soundproofing if noise may be an issue for the new neighbours.

It’s something that already exists in Australia, and is a principle that enjoyed much support during the #VoteForMusic survey of the music community ahead of the General Election earlier this year. The Musicians’ Union has also been lobbying hard for its introduction.

The aim is to overcome the mad situation where developers plonk a new residential building next to an existing venue, and then the new residents complain to the council about the noise, forcing new soundproofing obligations onto the gig space next door. Given the profit margins the grass roots live sector operates on, such obligations can put small venues out of business.

It’s shadow culture minister Michael Dugher and his fellow Labour MP John Healey who are proposing that the agent of change principle be introduced in the UK via the new planning legislation, which is currently at committee stage in Parliament. The measure, if made law, could cut both ways, in that people opening new venues would also be obliged to consider their new neighbours, and to ensure that the arrival of a music space in a residential area didn’t negatively impact on the existing locals (though, to an extent, new venues already have to do that anyway).

Dugher’s proposals have been welcomed by the music community. The boss of cross-sector trade group UK Music, Jo Dipple, stressed how challenging times are for small venues at the moment, and how important said venues are for nurturing new talent.

“These small and grassroots venues create a platform for our industry, one that contributes £4.1 billion to the UK economy”, she explained. “I am incredibly grateful to Michael Dugher MP and John Healey MP who recognise that something needs to give. Their leadership in this matter is welcome. I urge government to support the introduction of these amendments into law”.

Meanwhile Mark Davyd of the Music Venue Trust added: “We welcome this important opportunity to take a common sense approach to housing and planning. Grassroots music venues are culturally significant spaces, incubating UK music talent at the very earliest stage of their careers. By adopting agent of change principles, we not only ensure these spaces are protected, we also contribute to the development of higher quality residential development in towns and cities. Residents and culture can happily co-exist in our towns and cities, and agent of change is a simple supporting measure that encourages that outcome”.

And finally, Dave Webster of the MU added: “This amendment, if carried, will help to ensure the many venues supporting live music and providing community assets across the UK can continue to exist. Relaxation of planning laws allowing inner city, often redundant commercial buildings, to be turned into residential accommodation has in many cases adversely affected venues nationwide”.