In Britain, planning stops when the sun goes down – and it's hurting our night-time venues

Out. Image: Darrell Berry/darrell-berry.com/Flickr.

London has never been a 24 hour city. We’ve all experienced the difficulty of getting something to eat that’s even marginally healthy after 11pm.

There is a reason for this, and it is not cultural, but legislative. Our planning system is designed to guide uses from sunrise to sunset, not sunset to sunrise.

That’s because it is much simpler to govern daytime activities than those that happen after dark: most shops keep pretty regular trading hours. But pubs, nightclubs and other businesses that trade after dark are more variable, and more difficult to standardise.

As a result, Britain’s national planning laws are more suitable to what happens during the day. This leaves a much more variable, piecemeal system to manage the night time.

Our National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has been deprioritised by our current government. But it nonetheless offers detailed guidance concerning standard building practices, retail trading hours, transport systems and so on: there is one system that informs all activities during the day.

At night, this system is replaced by an altogether different system that we call “licensing”, which differs from council to council. It is this system of licensing, and what it is doing to how we treat our night time economy, that needs to change.  

Britain is one of the most restrictive developed nations in its licensing policies. When councils develop such policies, they design them to be relevant to the local needs of the residents and businesses. However, they’re answerable to voters – and those who are mostly likely to vote are often not the people most likely to go to bars, pubs and nightclubs.

The result is a patchwork of restrictions that make little sense. Some nightclubs claim they have to satisfy over 70 licensing restrictions to operate: licensing covers everything from health and safety, to nuisance prevention, to the right to serve alcohol. But it does so without a framework of guidance.


One must regulate what can and cannot happen at night; but the regulations being proposed fundamentally ignore the fact that there is an economic ecosystem at night, just as there is during the day. Yet there’s no structured planning guidance to account for this for this. Planning is calculated, prescribed and didactic; licensing is individualistic and reactionary.

By way of example, consider the noise complaints made about commercial venues. Such complaints are common, and have resulted in a number of music venues and nightclubs being threatened with closure. Ministry of Sound spent nearly £1m fighting such issues; The Fleece in Bristol is embroiled in complaints right now.

Tackling such complains through licensing is clearly not working. In the Ministry of Sound case, a planning decision settled the challenge: the developer agreeed to a “Deed of Easement” notice, meaning those who buy the flats have to accept the club and its activities, as long as it does not breach its regulations. But it took a fortune and much fighting to reach that conclusion, and a licensing problem was solved only through common sense planning law. The Fleece’s situation still remains precarious.

Both situations are the result of a lack of night time planning structure in the UK. We use licensing conditions to solve issues that should have pre-arranged solutions in the NPPF.

There are other options. Some cities have night mayors (Amsterdam, Rotterdam). Others have night time entertainment commissions (San Francisco). But in London, we don’t have a planning framework to support our nightlife: policy assumes that most of us go home by 10pm, and those that don’t are considered a nuisance.

The night-time economy isn’t disappearing. It’s growing, and our cities are better for it. At some point, London will welcome the 24 hour tube. It’s time we noticed that and began planning to make it even better, for those who go out – and those who stay in.

Shain Shapiro is the managing director of Sound Diplomacy, a leading music market development agency.

 
 
 
 

Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.