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Music community gathers in Westminster to back agent of change proposals

By | Published on Thursday 11 January 2018

Agent Of Change

Artists and music industry leaders joined politicians in Westminster yesterday to big up the ‘agent of change’ principle. They gathered as John Spellar MP presented his bill to Parliament which would change UK planning law so that property developers putting new residential buildings next to existing music venues would be responsible for identifying and solving any future sound issues.

The agent of change concept aims to ensure that music venues don’t run into expensive licensing issues as a result of complaints from new residents who choose to move in next door. With grassroots venues in particular operating on incredibly tight profit margins, sudden new sound proofing requirements can put said venues out of business.

With rising rents and business rates, and other market factors, already making things tricky for the grassroots gigging circuit, venues and promoters could really do without the extra hassle of tetchy new neighbours. Especially when it is often cultural businesses that make previously run down parts of towns and cities cool again, so that property developers want to turn old warehouses into plush new apartments.

In his speech to Parliament yesterday, Spellar said: “I accept that there is a variety of reasons for the decline in venues, but many relate to changes in the neighbourhood, increasingly when redundant commercial or industrial premises are converted to residential, or are knocked down and rebuilt, or as empty sites are developed”.

He went on: “Of course, much of that is very welcome. It is part of the regeneration of our inner cities, restoring their historic vibrancy and creating much-needed homes. However, it can sometimes lead to the loss of what makes parts of those areas attractive in the first place, especially to younger residents”.

On his specific legislative proposals, he added: “My short bill is a modest and focused measure that would adopt the principle of agent of change into planning law. That basically means that when buildings are converted to residential use or a new development is put up, the onus is on the developer – not the venue – to ensure that the new dwellings are protected from factors, particularly noise, that could be held to affect their general amenity and enjoyment”.

In addition to cross-party support for Spellar’s proposals in Parliament, the bill is backed by pretty much the entire music community, far beyond those who are in the business of performing or staging grassroots gigs in small venues. This, Spellar explained, is because grassroots gig venues play such an important role in developing new musical talent.

He went on: “Less venues means less work and less opportunity to develop talent – or even for musicians to find out that they are not going to make it in the industry. It also means less opportunity to move up from amateur to part-time to full-time professional, and to national or even international stardom. I was talking today to Billy Bragg, who mentioned that he tried three times to move from having an ordinary job and working part-time to being a full-time musician. It was the existence of the clubs, pubs and venues that enabled him finally to make it on to the national stage”.

One of the industry groups that has been leading on the campaign to make agent of change law, the Music Venue Trust, declared that yesterday was an important day in its history. It said last night: “Earlier today John Spellar MP’s bill was read in Parliament and no objections were raised. A huge list of sponsors of the bill accompanied the first reading, meaning that this can now progress to a second reading”.

That second reading is due to take place next week. Legislation introduced by back bench MPs in Parliament rarely becomes actual law, either because the government party ultimately blocks it, or there simply isn’t enough time in the parliamentary schedule to see the proposal through. Though bills introduced in this way can put pressure on government to act on an issue. Ministers haveĀ previously expressed some support for agent of change, in one form or another, and members of the All Party Parliamentary Group For Music recently urged the government to back Spellar’s proposals.

All of which means the music community and its allies in Westminster will keep up the pressure on this one in the coming weeks.