Can night mayors make cities' dreams come true?

Soho: an area of London felt to be under threat from developers. Image: Getty.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, recently announced the identity of the city’s first ever “night czar”. Amy Lamé, a British television and radio personality, was the successful candidate of a competition that garnered hundreds of applicants.

She will earn a £35,000 salary, working two-and-a-half days a week, to promote London’s nightlife and champion the city’s £26.3bn night-time economy. This move will fulfil one of Khan’s key election pledges, to support nocturnal venues and cultural industries.

Lamé’s appointment also plays into the mayor’s #LondonIsOpen campaign, designed to show the world that London remains entrepreneurial, international, and welcoming to the creative industries. Khan has based the role on a model pioneered in Amsterdam: the office of “nachtburgemeester” – literally, a night mayor.

Amsterdam elected its first night mayor in 2003, at a time when the city’s famed nightlife was widely perceived to be in decline. The position was created by a coalition of night-time industry representatives and local government officials, to mediate between different interest groups and advocate for the night-time economy.

The current night mayor of Amsterdam, Mirik Milan, was elected in 2012. A club promoter and outspoken supporter of urban nightlife, Milan contributes to the policies which affect the city’s night-time economy. So far, he has successfully campaigned for 24-hour licenses (introduced in 2013) and positioned himself as the face of urban nightlife in the media; he is often called on to represent the producers and consumers of nocturnal culture.

Mirik Milan: night mayor by day. Image: Adam Nowek/Flickr/creative commons.

Milan has effectively advocated for his position, encouraging other cities around the world to create similar roles – he even hosted a global conference about night mayors earlier this year. And it seems to be working; over the past few years, the concept has gone global. Paris, Berlin, Sydney, and now London, all have night mayors, as do Zurich and Shibuya, part of Tokyo.


The success of the night mayor – in any given city, and as a global phenomenon – rests on the capacity for a bustling urban nightlife to boost the local economy, by keeping people spending for longer. Vibrant nightscapes have also become a mark of cultural status for global cities. As Milan argued, they can be used to attract tourists, workers and international students.

Building bridges

The role is also about building coalitions and consensus around divisive issues. Nightclubs are often blamed for social problems, ranging from noise pollution, to anti-social behaviour and illegal drug use. The recent closure of Fabric – an iconic London nightclub with a global following – is a case in point: despite opposition from the public, its license was revoked by the local council, following a review into two drug-related deaths at the venue over the summer. (It is now reopening.)

Fabric is simply the most recent victim in a series of high-profile closures. In the last decade, the number of nightclubs has nearly halved. But punitive regulation is not the only factor: gentrification presents another increasingly serious threat to the economic viability of nightclubs, with rising property values driving up rents.

Rents they are a-rising. Image: FlickrDelusions/Flickr/creative commons.

Yet managing a growing global city at night also has much to do with service provision, infrastructure flexibility, cultural sensibility and urban safety. As the Greater London Authority (GLA) itself admits, demand for night-time travel is on the rise, with late night tube usage is increasing at double the rate of daytime trips (over 170 per cent since 2000).

While the mayor’s office and the GLA may have come out in support of London’s nightlife and nocturnal culture, they will need to work alongside Lamé toward building a far broader consensus. For instance, licensing falls within the jurisdiction of London’s boroughs, so local councillors will need to be brought on board. Protecting nightlife venues requires bringing diverse, and sometimes hostile, parties to the table. Appointing a night czar is a start – but it may take more than that to nurture London’s nightlife.The Conversation

Katherine Alexandra Newman is a PhD Candidate at the University of Victoria. Michele Acuto is professor of diplomacy & urban theory at UCL.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Two east London boroughs are planning to tax nightlife to fund the clean up. Will it work?

A Shoreditch rave, 2013. Image: Getty.

No-one likes cleaning up after a party, but someone’s got to do it. On a city-wide scale, that job falls to the local authority. But that still leaves the question: who pays?

In east London, the number of bars and clubs has increased dramatically in recent years. The thriving club scene has come with benefits – but also a price tag for the morning clean-up and cost of policing. The boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets are now looking to nightlife venues to cover these costs.

Back in 2012, councils were given powers to introduce ‘late night levies’: essentially a tax on all the licensed venues that open between midnight and 6am. The amount venues are expected to pay is based on the premises’ rateable value. Seventy per cent of any money raised goes to the police and the council keeps the rest.

Few councils took up the offer. Four years after the legislation was introduced, only eight local authorities had introduced a levy, including Southampton, Nottingham, and Cheltenham. Three of the levies were in the capital, including Camden and Islington. The most lucrative was in the City of London, where £420,000 was raised in the 2015-16 financial year.

Even in places where levies have been introduced, they haven’t always had the desired effect. Nottingham adopted a late night levy in November 2014. Last year, it emerged that the tax had raised £150,000 less than expected in its first year. Only a few months before, Cheltenham scrapped its levy after it similarly failed to meet expectations.


Last year, the House of Lords committee published its review of the 2003 Licensing Act. The committee found that “hardly any respondents believed that late night levies were currently working as they should be” – and councils reported that the obligation to pass revenues from the levy to the police had made the tax unappealing. Concluding its findings on the late night levy, the committee said: “We believe on balance that it has failed to achieve its objectives, and should be abolished.”

As might be expected of a nightlife tax, late night levies are also vociferously opposed by the hospitality industry. Commenting on the proposed levy in Tower Hamlets, Brigid Simmonds, chief executive at the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “A levy would represent a damaging new tax – it is the wrong approach. The focus should be on partnership working, with the police and local business, to address any issues in the night time economy.”

Nevertheless, boroughs in east London are pressing ahead with their plans. Tower Hamlets was recently forced to restart a consultation on its late night levy after a first attempt was the subject of a successful legal challenge by the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR). Kate Nicholls, chief executive at the ALMR, said:

“We will continue to oppose these measures wherever they are considered in any part of the UK and will urge local authorities’ to work with businesses, not against them, to find solutions to any issues they may have.”

Meanwhile, Hackney council intends to introduce a levy after a consultation which revealed 52 per cents of respondents were in favour of the plans. Announcing the consultation in February, licensing chair Emma Plouviez said:

“With ever-shrinking budgets, we need to find a way to ensure the our nightlife can continue to operate safely, so we’re considering looking to these businesses for a contribution towards making sure their customers can enjoy a safe night out and their neighbours and surrounding community doesn’t suffer.”

With budgets stretched, it’s inevitable that councils will seek to take advantage of any source of income they can. Nevertheless, earlier examples of the late night levy suggest this nightlife tax is unlikely to prove as lucrative as is hoped. Even if it does, should we expect nightlife venues to plug the gap left by public sector cuts?