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UK government to put ‘agent of change’ into planning rules

By | Published on Friday 19 January 2018

Agent Of Change

The UK government has announced that it will add the so called ‘agent of change’ principle to the National Planning Policy Framework. That’s the thing local authorities must follow when considering planning applications by property developers.

This should mean that any developer sticking a big fuck off new luxury residential block next to an existing music venue will have to identify and assess future noise issues that may occur when all those rich fuckers move in next door, and make sure that they take measures to mitigate such problems during the initial build.

The aim is to stop that silly scenario where people say “this area of town looks like a cool place to live, what with all the music and cultural shit that’s going down, I’m going buy a posh apartment here, and then moan relentlessly about all the music and cultural shit that’s going down, until the local council changes all the venues’ licensing terms ensuring they go out of business”.

To that end, agent of change can be classified under the legal category of “such a fucking obvious thing to do, the only reason it isn’t already law is that everyone assumed it was anyway”. Except, I guess, the sneaky property developers who got to throw up shoddy new buildings without modifying their designs to suit the local environment, and then sell them on for millions to idiots, before fucking off and letting other people deal with the resulting shitstorm.

So, hurrah for agent of change finally becoming the norm. The music community has been increasingly vocal about needing agent of change incorporated into planning rules in recent years, of course. And that resulted in some serious campaigning by the Music Venue Trust, Musicians’ Union and UK Music. Progress was made last year with the principle being discussed in Parliament, government confirming it was investigating the matter, and London mayor Sadiq Khan incorporating it into his plans in the capital.

Then earlier this month Labour MP John Spellar proposed specific legislation to make agent of change law. Bills put forward in Parliament by backbench MPs, rather than government ministers, rarely go through. But it was hoped that, by showing that this common sense proposal had widespread cross-party support and few opponents willing to speak out on the matter, government could be pressured into making some formal commitments on the agent of change point.

And that they did. Yesterday. When the Ministry Of Housing, Communities & Local Government stated: “Housing developers building new homes near music venues should be responsible for addressing noise issues in a move to protect both music venues and their neighbours”. To that end, it added, “The National Planning Policy Framework, which local authorities are legally bound to comply with, will now be clarified to include detailed reference to the ‘agent of change’ principle, and will be consulted on in spring”.

Housing Secretary Sajid Javid then chipped in, saying: “Music venues play a vital role in our communities, bringing people together and contributing to the local economy and supporting the country’s grass roots music culture. I have always thought it unfair that the burden is on long-standing music venues to solve noise issues when property developers choose to build nearby”.

Noting commitments already made by the government in this domain last year, he continued: “That’s why I consulted on this in February last year as part of the housing white paper. I am pleased to finally have an opportunity to right this wrong and also give more peace of mind to new residents moving into local properties”.

Needless to say, this announcement was welcomed by Spellar and the music community. The former confirmed that he would now put his bill on hold while Javid’s department goes about adding agent of change into the National Planning Policy Framework.

Meanwhile UK Music boss Michael Dugher said: “This is a seismic victory for all those who fought so hard to safeguard the future of music venues across the UK – from grassroots community activists to Britain’s global music stars who have spent years calling for agent of change and recently supported the Spellar Bill”.

He added: “We are delighted the government has thrown its support behind our agent of change plan and is strengthening the rules to protect grassroots music venues. It’s a tremendous boost for the live music industry”.

Dave Webster, the Musicians’ Union’s National Organiser For Live Performance, then added: “This is welcome news and we are pleased that the government has listened to the music industry. The pledge to strengthen the National Planning Policy Framework will give Musicians’ Union members places to play and audiences to support them, and give venues the protection they so desperately need”.

And finally, the Music Venue Trust stated: “Following the huge support for John Spellar MP’s private members bill, Music Venue Trust warmly welcomes this move by the government to adopt agent of change. Too many of our music venues have been lost to poor developments that haven’t recognised the cultural importance of grassroots music venues”.

Of course, while Javid has now made a formal commitment to introduce agent of change, the devil is always in the detail. The music community needs to keep a close eye on how the principle is actually introduced, to ensure it isn’t watered down under any possible pressure from the property sector.

Which is something MVT acknowledged. It went on: “We look forward to working with the government to ensure that these new measures provide robust protection, which presents clear guidelines for developers and local authorities”.

So, a big step forward, but likely more debate to come. Meanwhile, premium CMU subscribers can check out a new CMU Trends article explaining agent of change in more detail, and reviewing how we got to this point.