UK Music welcomes government move to back Agent of Change as victory for music industry

18/01/18: UK Music today welcomed the Government’s announcement to back vital plans to save music venues as a “seismic victory” for campaigners and a “tremendous boost” for the live music industry.

The Government today announced (Jan 18) that it will dramatically strengthen planning rules in a move that will throw a lifeline to music venues across the UK.

Over the past decade 35% of music venues across the country have closed. UK Music has led the campaign to get the “Agent of Change” principle enshrined in law to protect venues from developers.

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced today that the Government is throwing its support behind the plan to protect music venues under threat from developers.

At the conclusion of  negotiations led by UK Music, Mr Javid promised major changes to the nationwide planning policies that the Government expects planning authorities to legally comply with.

Before the Government’s announcement today, UK Music’s plan to save venues was supported by at least 100 MPs and peers including former Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, as well as  organisations including the Music Venue Trust and the Musicians’ Union.

The campaign attracted cross-party support from politicians and music stars including Sir Paul McCartney, Brian Eno, Chrissie Hynde, Nick Mason, Sandie Shaw, Nadine Shah, Ray Davies, Imogen Heap, Billy Bragg, Feargal Sharkey and Craig David.

UK Music has been campaigning for developers to take account of the impact of any new plans on pre-existing businesses like music venues before going ahead with their plans. That could mean, for example, the developer of new flats takes responsibility for soundproofing to avoid the risk of new neighbours complaining about noise from a music venue.

The Government’s promised changes will be to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which sets out the Government’s planning policies. The key policy changes will see a crucial addition that will significantly beef up the framework to make it crystal clear that the Agent of Change will protect existing businesses, such as music venues, when areas are being considered for redevelopment.

Following pressure from UK Music and campaigners from across the music industry, the Agent of Change will be a distinct new part of the amended National Planning Policy Framework.

The Government’s decision came after Labour MP and former Government Minister John Spellar unveiled his Planning (Agent of Change) Bill on January 10 2018 at a mass lobby of Parliament. The rally attracted massive media attention and was believed to be a turning point in the Government’s decision.

Among the stars who came to the event to show there support were: Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Feargal Sharkey, Sandie Shaw, Nadine Shah, Billy Bragg, Jeremy Pritchard (Everything Everything), The Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock and Tom Gray (Gomez).

Venues that have had to fight closure threats in the past include London’s iconic Ministry of Sound and the 100 Club. Venues that face similar threats today include Bristol venues, the Thekla, the Fiddlers and the Fleece. Campaigners are also battling to protect the Womanby Street music quarter in Cardiff from developers.

The Square in Harlow, which hosted the Coldplay, Blur, Supergrass and Muse when they were starting out, closed last year as a result of a planning dispute.

If the closures continue, they will severely impact the music industry’s ability to grow the huge contribution it makes to the UK economy.

UK Music Chief Executive 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

“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.

“Music makes a huge contribution to our country, bringing enjoyment to millions and contributing £4.4 billion to our economy. Supporting grassroots venues is key to maintaining the UK's vibrant and diverse music scene, as well as ensuring we have the talent pipeline to maintain Britain’s position as a global force in music.

“UK Music will continue to campaign on other key issues that affect venues like licensing and business rates to make sure British music is protected, strengthened and nurtured  for the future.

“It’s great that Ministers have listened and are prepared to work with UK Music and others from the industry, including the Music Venue Trust, to make sure grassroots venues get the support and protections they need.”

John Spellar said:

“I am delighted that the Government have listened to grassroots venues and campaigners that have supported the safeguards contained in my Planning (Agent of Change) Bill. This announcement is fantastic news. While we need to iron out the final details when considering the draft framework, there is a real hope that these new provisions could be law by the summer.”

Regarding his Agent of Change Bill that was due to get its second Reading at the House of Commons on Friday January 19, John Spellar tweeted today:

“Given that Ministers have shown a willingness to engage seriously with the music industry to deliver a legally binding Agent of Change principle, I am - with the agreement of cross-party co-sponsors – putting my Bill on hold.”

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:

“London’s night life is world-renowned. When it comes to protecting venues such as pubs, clubs, grassroots music venues and LGBT+ spaces from nearby new developments, Agent of Change means Londoners can continue to enjoy the capital’s night life while local residents can get a good night’s sleep. As Mayor of London - I’ve committed to establishing the Agent of Change principle in my draft London Plan, and support UK Music’s campaign to see this rolled out across the country.”

Dave Webster, Musicians’ Union National Organiser for Live Performance, said:

“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.”

Read the Government's press release here.

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