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MVT welcomes government clarification on planning reforms and the possible impact on venues

By | Published on Wednesday 8 July 2020

Music Venue Trust

The Music Venue Trust has welcomed a commitment from the UK government to the effect that upcoming changes to planning laws in England won’t put grassroots music venues at risk. MVT had previously expressed concerns that those changes could further hinder many grassroots venues just as they start to recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson announced plans last month for “the most radical reforms of our planning system since the end of the Second World War” as part of an “infrastructure revolution”. The aim is to greatly simplify the process via which builders and property companies seek permission for construction and redevelopment projects, speeding things up across the board and removing some regulatory requirements entirely.

This is all being presented now as part of the UK’s strategy to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, basically Britain will build itself back into business. Though for the specific pro-Brexit faction in the Conservative Party that brought Johnson to power, slashing reams of regulation and reducing the power of national and local government institutions is a core objective and – indeed – the real motivation for exiting the European Union, which controls various regulatory regimes within its member states.

Now, there are – of course – plenty of regulations that are outdated, badly worded or badly implemented, and any reform of those is to be welcomed. But there are also plenty of regulations that are there for good reason, and when ministers seek to push through an “all red tape is bad” agenda at some speed – using things like the COVID and Brexit crises to avoid too much scrutiny – well, things can get fucked up for everyone except those who are being regulated. Who, it often turns out, are a small bunch of wealthy individuals and corporate interests.

Hence the MVT’s concerns about Johnson’s “infrastructure revolution”. The grassroots music community has had a few regulatory wins in recent years to protect venues from property developers pursuing city centre building projects that can result in venues being evicted, or seeing their rent and rates jump up, or from having new residential properties pop up next door resulting in years of future noise complaints.

Noting those achievements, when Johnson made his big speech last month the MVT said it needed “urgent clarification” that those regulatory wins would not now be backtracked, and that ministers definitely planned “to leave the protections for music venues in place”.

MVT having raised the issue, Labour MP Kevin Brennan decided to specifically ask the government’s Culture Minister Oliver Dowden what discussions he’d had with his ministerial colleagues to ensure that “government proposals to reform planning regulations retain protections for grassroots venues”.

A response came on Monday, via Dowden’s colleague Caroline Dinenage, who stated: “We recognise the value of grassroots music venues and understand that this sector is facing significant challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. During this period we are committed to finding the best ways to protect them so that they can continue to exist as a vital part of the music ecosystem, feeding this country’s love of a broad range of culture”.

Officials in the Department For Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, she went on, “have been in regular dialogue with their Ministry For Housing, Communities & Local Government counterparts and will continue to work together closely. Changes to planning processes to support the high street revival, announced by the Prime Minister on 30 June 2020, will also recognise the value of retaining cultural buildings such as grassroots music venues and theatres rather than encouraging their change of use”.

MVT welcomed that commitment, noting on social media: “This possibly seems like a small thing [but] it is absolutely vital”.