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Music Venue Trust raises concerns about government’s ‘project speed’ plan to overhaul planning rules

By | Published on Wednesday 1 July 2020

Music Venue Trust

While the music community continues to fight for sector-specific support to help the industry survive the ongoing COVID-19 shutdown, the Music Venue Trust has raised concerns that the UK government’s plans for post-pandemic economic revival could actually negatively impact on grassroots venues.

Which would mean that, while one aspect of the government’s COVID response was busy failing to support the country’s grassroots venues network, another aspect would actively hitting it over the head. Those concerns relate to newly announced plans to radically overhaul the planning process for building projects in England.

Those plans are included in the government’s new strategy for post-COVID recovery. Remember, you no longer have to be that much of pessimist to anticipate a scenario where the UK starts 2021 with a no-deal Brexit, a major recession and a second spike of COVID-19, just as rapid and radical reforms of national government put all the institutions of state into chaos while local authorities – after ten years of “austerity” and a year of pandemic – start to go bankrupt. Personally I can’t wait. But worry not, Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson has a strategy. Let’s build some shit!

To that end, Johnson yesterday said his government would instigate an “infrastructure revolution”. And in order to make that happen, the processes by which building projects get planning permission will be shaken up big time to ensure such projects get approval much faster. Sufficiently fast that those reforms are being dubbed ‘project speed’.

Bragged Johnson: “We will build fantastic new homes on brownfield sites and other areas that – with better transport and other infrastructure – could, frankly, be suitable and right for development. And it’s to galvanise this whole process that this government will shortly bring forward the most radical reforms of our planning system since the end of the Second World War”.

Now, to be fair – because sometimes you even have to be fair to Bullshitter Johnson – there is some merit to prioritising, simplifying and investing in infrastructure and building projects as the UK economy goes to shit post-COVID and post-Brexit. And especially if the focus is on useful infrastructure and useful building projects.

And Johnson did insist that this strategy would prioritise affordable housing to “help young people get on the housing ladder in the way that their parents and grandparents could”. And what possible reason would we have for not trusting Bullshitter to stick to that particular commitment?

It’s also true that sometimes planning permission processes are inefficient and far too time consuming, delaying and sometimes killing good projects in the process.

But then some planning rules are there for good reason. Such as stopping developers from putting up residential properties next to existing music venues with no sound proofing, then selling them off and running away before the new residents start moaning about the noisy venue, resulting in future licensing issues for said venue.

Actually, in the past planning rules in the UK haven’t done that very good a job of stopping that from happening at all. But after much campaigning from the likes of the Music Venue Trust, Musicians’ Union and UK Music, rules were changed to overcome that issue.

Firstly by revising previous attempts by the government to speed up the planning process through a concept called ‘permitted development rights’. And then by getting the so called agent of change principle into the National Planning Policy Framework, so that property developers are obliged to consider future noise issues alongside new properties and to address them at the design stage.

Given Johnson’s typically vague talk of “revolution” and “radical reforms” yesterday, MVT is now concerned that those achievements could be backtracked as the government prioritises speed over everything else in the planning process.

In a statement yesterday, MVT noted how the government’s project speed announcement “includes the statement that planning rules would be changed by September, to allow: developers to ‘demolish and rebuild’ vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes; a wider range of commercial buildings to be switched to housing without a planning application; and property owners to build ‘additional space above their properties’, via a ‘fast track approval process'”.

This, MVT says, is basically “a replica of the permitted development right which closed hundreds of venues before the government acted to exempt them in 2018. The decision to exempt them was taken after a long campaign supported by, among others, Boris Johnson. We need urgent clarification from the government that they do not intend to change the National Planning Policy Framework and [that they] intend to leave the protections for music venues in place”.

It may be that future detail from the government on all things project speed overcome these concerns from the off. Though, if not, a grassroots music community fighting for survival because of government policy will have to find the energy to fight for survival because of government policy. We will “build, build, build” insists Johnson. But hopefully that won’t just destroy what we’ve already got.