A legal representative for the current operator of The Leadmill in Sheffield yesterday raised safety concerns about her client's landlord, the Electric Group, taking over the running of the venue, alleging that the company "has a fundamental disregard for safety". But the boss of the Electric Group - which already operates venues in London, Bristol and Newcastle - insisted "we have an outstanding track record of compliance".
These comments were made during a hearing of Sheffield City Council's licensing committee. It was considering an application by the Electric Group to secure a so called shadow licence covering The Leadmill. If issued, both the landlord and current Leadmill operator Phil Mills would have concurrent licences to run the venue, meaning - if and when the Electric Group evicts Mills - it can immediately start running the building.
The Electric Group bought The Leadmill building back in 2016. Mills and his team initially continued to run the venue, but were formally given twelve months to vacate the premises in March last year, so that the Electric Group can put its own management team in place.
Mills has so far refused to give up the building, instead running the Save The Leadmill campaign. This week's licensing hearing has become a key focus of that campaign, because if the Electric Group can't secure a licence to run the venue, Mills will have a stronger case for staying put.
However, Sheffield City Council can only legally decline to issue a licence if some very specific criteria are met. Principally, that blocking a licence request would ensure “the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; the protection of children from harm”.
This is why the legal rep for Mills, Sarah Clover, brought up safety issues at yesterday's hearing.
According to The Guardian, she said that the Electric Group's owner Dominic Madden was using his "wealth and celebrity connections" to push through a licensing application that was “unsafe”.
She then pointed to newspaper reports relating to Madden's other venues - including reports of a stabbing outside SWX in Bristol - and mentioned online reviews of Electric Brixton in London and NX in Newcastle.
Among other things, those reviews "complained that door staff failed to properly check IDs, that they were 'aggressive, unprofessional, rude, arrogant', and that the venue owners consistently oversold events, leading to overcrowding". Clover concluded: “It is a consistent theme ... Mr Madden has a fundamental disregard for safety".
Madden has been critical of the Save The Leadmill campaign, which he says has misled people into thinking the venue is facing closure.
He told yesterday's hearing: “The local campaign’s been utterly spirited, and I take my hat off to them, but I think they’ve crossed the line. What’s to stop them sending some kid down to Brixton to write a bad review? All the evidence you’re looking at are unverified Google reviews".
Several of the safety issues raised by the Mills side actually happened before he took over the running of his three current venues, he added, before concluding: “I’ve never had, and I’m delighted and proud to say that none of my premises have been subject to review … we have an outstanding track record of compliance".
About 100 people supporting the current Leadmill team gathered outside Sheffield Town Hall ahead of the licensing meeting to protest against the Electric Group’s plans to take over running the venue. Madden previously criticised that protest after it emerged that protestors had been offered £40 each for showing up.
The licensing committee should make a decision on the Electric Group's licence application in the next few days.