Podcast: One in five

Some of the ghost cities identified by Baidu researchers. Image: Baidu.

On this week’s podcast, we’re talking about one of the biggest stories in the world today – the urbanisation of China.

To help us work this one out, we’re joined by a man who literally wrote the book on the subject. In 2006, American student Wade Shepard found himself lost in an entirely empty city somewhere in western China. When he told his professor about the experience, the response was a shrug and the words, “Yeah, those things are everywhere”.


So Wade set about exploring these empty cities. Last year, he published the book, Ghost Cities of China, about his experiences, to explain where these cities come from – and why they’re not really ghost cities at all. (You can find links to some of Wade’s excellent articles for us below.)

Also this week, we’re introducing a new segment in which one of our listeners tells us about their own city. This week, the man behind the curtain, our producer Roifield Brown, tells us about his hometown Birmingham.

If you’d like to contribute to this section in future, you can leave us a short message on Speakpipe – or, if you think that what you want to say will take more than 90 seconds, you can just email us an audio file.

The episode itself is below. Also, you can (and, frankly, should) subscribe on AcastiTunes, or RSS.

Some relevant links...

Wade has written a whole series of articles for CityMetric, in his capacity as our unofficial China correspondent. Here are some of our favourites:

  • “My family has lived here for generations. We don’t want our house destroyed”: on China’s mass evictions

Incidentally, the image at the top of this post is our map of the week, and show's an attempt to map China's ghost using mobile phone signals. You can read more about this here.

 
 
 
 

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?