The leader of Sheffield City Council has said that, while he understands the “the strength of feeling” among supporters of the city’s Leadmill venue, he “cannot directly intervene in the legal process taking place between The Leadmill’s landlord and tenant”.
Council leader Tom Hunt issued his statement after the current management team at The Leadmill further ramped up their campaign last week against plans by landlord Electric Group to directly take over the running of the venue. The Save The Leadmill campaign called on its supporters to demand that Hunt take a side in the dispute.
The Electric Group – which also operates venues in London, Bristol and Newcastle – bought the building that houses The Leadmill back in 2016. While the current Leadmill management team, headed up by Phil Mills, has continued to run the space ever since, last year Electric Group confirmed it planned to start directly operating the venue, giving Mills twelve months to vacate the premises.
That was meant to happen in March this year, but so far Mills has refused to move out, instead launching the Save The Leadmill campaign. The Electric Group – which has accused that campaign of misleading people into thinking that the venue faces closure rather than just a change in management – has now begun legal proceedings to evict Mills and his team.
The focus of the Save The Leadmill campaign has shifted to Sheffield City Council because the Electric Group is now applying for its own licence to run the venue. Mills and his team initially urged their supporters to raise objections with the council’s licensing committee, and then last week suggested that people should directly contact Hunt, who was elected Sheffield City Council leader back in May.
A spokesperson for The Leadmill said: “Tom, of all people, should know that this hostile takeover risks fundamentally and forever changing the course of our city, heritage and culture. It may start with us at The Leadmill, but it goes much further than that. If we don’t stop this hostile takeover, the very soul and character of our great city is at risk. Tom needs to pick a side”.
“There are 80 members of staff who are incredibly passionate about ensuring that The Leadmill is a top quality venue that provides a huge variety of entertainment to visitors from across the globe, but we are all so tired of the ongoing situation – time and energy is being spent on trying to retain our jobs and The Leadmill”, they went on.
Responding to the latest phase of the Save The Leadmill campaign last week, Electric Group CEO Dominic Madden said: “Sadly, the Save The Leadmill campaign continues to mislead the public and to stoke up unpleasant, angry and unnecessary ill feeling. There is no risk of the venue closing”.
“The current tenant’s lease has expired and Electric Group, which owns the freehold to the building, wants to invest in the space and ensure that it continues to operate as a music and arts venue which Sheffield can be proud of for many years to come”, he went on.
“The only hostility comes from the campaign itself. We want the venue to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone, including the staff – and equipped to attract the best touring acts and support the local community”.
Having presumably received plenty of messages from The Leadmill’s supporters, Hunt issued a statement yesterday insisting that it is not for him or the council to get actively involved in the dispute between Mills and his landlord.
“The Leadmill is an iconic venue that has played host to brilliant gigs and club nights and has supported Sheffield’s best musical talent”, Hunt wrote. “As leader of the council and as a Sheffield resident, I know how loved The Leadmill is by many people and I understand the strength of feeling”.
“The council is a champion of our cultural industries and nighttime economy but we cannot directly intervene in the legal process taking place between the Leadmill’s landlord and tenant”, he went on. “The council does not own the building but over the last year, we have engaged with both parties and remain willing to do so. However, we must balance this with allowing the normal licensing processes to happen as they usually would”.
Which brings us to the application by the Electric Group for its own licence to run The Leadmill, what will initially be a shadow licence, which is where a landlord holds a licence in relation to a building where a tenant also has a licence to trade. The council’s licensing committee is due to consider that application next month.
“As a statutory licensing authority”, Hunt continued, “the council has a legal duty to be fair, unbiased and treat each licence application the same. When the application for a shadow licence for The Leadmill … is heard, it will be treated impartially and in exactly the same way as every other application that the council deals with. It is essential that the council’s words or actions do not influence the legal process”.
Given the limited grounds on which the council could legally refuse to issue a licence to the Electric Group, it seems unlikely next month’s meeting of the licensing committee will aid the Save The Leadmill campaign. However, Mills and his team will no doubt continue pushing with that campaign, with the council meeting providing the next key date in it.