What can music venues learn from betting shops?

Can these men save Britain's live music industry? Gamblers in Merthyr Tydfil back in 2007. Image: Getty.

In March 2015, an amendment to the law altered the way that betting shops, bookies and pawnshops were classified by the planning system. From 23 March of that year, such premises were reclassified from A2 to Sui Generis.

To those unfamiliar with the minutiae of the General Permitted Development Order, A2 includes finance and professional services, including finance and banking, building societies and estate agents. Betting shops inclusion in this use class came out of the 2005 Gambling Act, a heavily lobbied-for set of legislation which regulated the sector.

When a building is classed as A2, permitted development rights mean it could change to A1 (shops), A3 (food and drink), A4 (pubs) and A5 (hot food / takeaway). This doesn’t mean that betting shops became pubs – but it did mean they were able to occupy high streets units (i.e. places that used to be A1, A3, A4 or A5) without planning permission.

Furthermore, as A2, betting shops, bookies and pawnshops were able to argue successfully that their businesses served a banking and financial role in our towns or cities. Such businesses were thus given precedence on our high streets, and there was no tool to reject a change of use from a disused cafe, for example. After all, we all need banks and building societies.

 A decade on, we see the result of such a use change. Merton and Newham councils in London, for example, have faced significant challenge and litigation from the gambling lobby. And across the country local authorities have had to allocate millions of pounds to challenging this use – often by using Article 4 Directions, in which councils can override permitted development rights by appealing directly to the Secretary of State.

Thankfully, now the use has been changed to Sui Generis, meaning "in a class by itself". This class does not permit a change of use: you can no longer simply switch a building A3 (disused cafe) to A2 (new betting shop).

As a result, if one wants to open a bookies now, the application will be treated on its own merits: there’s no longer a clause that allows them to occupy a site without planning consent. All this has made them less probable to spring up on high streets where there are already two or three in place.

So, why does this matter for music venues and nightclubs? Such venues are classed in a complex way. More often than not, they're D2, which is "Assembly and Leisure". Sometimes, they’re A4, pubs. And some are also classed as sui generis – for example, if a cafe is bolted on. This means that where they can be, and how they are classed by Britain’s planning sector, is treated on a case-by-case basis.


Music lessons

But what works now with betting shops does not work for music venues: I propose that we take a lesson from the gambling lobby and do what they managed to do in reverse. We should create a use class for music venues, or at least create more specific planning guidelines for them, to protect and promote their use and value.

By doing this, we can prohibit a change in use. That would mean that, once a venue, it can always be a venue. At least as long as business allows: if a venue closes due to bankruptcy that is one thing. But many close due to change of use, not business reasons. This would address that.

When local and regional authorities map cities and town centres, a number of uses are drawn up and allocated space, according to what is deemed best for the local community. It is top down and not specific, but does prioritise some uses over others. For example, one plot of land may be classified as residential (A1); the plot across the street finance (A2). And over there is a Church (D2), and next to it a café or restaurant (A3).

But through this process, more often than not unintentionally, we deprioritise certain uses because they are more difficult, in planning terms, to administer. This is the challenge facing music venues: they are often left off the map, even though A4 or D2 is prioritised in the part of the National Planning Policy Framework covering town and city centres.

What this does is over-emphasise day-time use, leaving night time use less allocated or thought through. As a result, we are left with reactive licensing conditions to “plan” the night – because it’s trickier than other uses more synonymous with daytime (for example, retail).

Lessons learnt

This lack of a more specific use class for music venues and nightclubs means that their specific characteristics – including the loading in and out, entry and exit of people flow and other matters – are not widely understood and often clash with the local planning framework as it currently stands.

That framework often creates further challenges and conflicts with other uses, such as residential. And no matter how forward thinking a planning consent is, if noise becomes an issue, the problem reverts to a licensing officer, who is rightly not concerned with what use class a building is.

More defined, structured guidance is what is required to mitigate these potential challenges and support all our cities and town centres: it would give music venues and nightclubs a more defined place, in all our places. This is not happening at present, as in London, for example, we are still losing venues, nightclubs and even pubs, due to planning issues.

While we cannot change what has already been planned, across the country, a number of large scale developments are being planned right now. At the same time, local authorities are revisiting their long term visions, from Shoreditch to Leeds city centre. Here we have an opportunity to safeguard our music venues, nightclubs and entertainment premises for the future, while respecting the rights of those to sleep.

And so, I propose we identify and define a specific use for such venues, at least in terms of guidance. I propose a use-class that is less blunt, and focuses on the benefits of music venues and nightclubs, rather than attempting to shoehorn them into a class that may not suit them.

The new categorisation could blend D2, A4 and sui generis, and include all "gatherings of individuals to hear amplified music in a licensed (or teetotal) premises", or something to that effect. If the gambling sector can successfully lobby to be defined as finance, music venues can lobby to be better designated in – and so supported by – planning law.

If we value our town centres, our development areas and our night-time economy, we need to better understand how they respond to, impact and are influenced by our planning law. In the UK, we have very few planning guidelines to govern and support what happens when the sun goes down. Let’s start by copying those clever betting shop lobbyists. Let’s provide a use class for music venues.

Shain Shapiro is director of the music consultancy Sound Diplomacy and founder the Music Cities Convention, which takes place in Brighton on 18 May 2016.

The author wishes to thank Matthew Newby, planner at Newham Council, for the guidance and support in writing this article. He wishes to also state that he is not a planner. He’s just obsessed.

 
 
 
 

What’s up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther

The Black Panther promotional poster. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Black Panther is one of the best reviewed superhero films of all time. It’s instantly become a cultural touchstone for black representation in movies, while shining a positive light on a continent almost totally ignored by Hollywood. But never mind all that – what about the trains?

The film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, a small, technologically advanced nation whose power comes from its main natural resource: huge supplies of a magical metal called vibranium. As is often the case in sci-fi, “technologically advanced” here means “full of skyscrapers and trains”. In other words, perfect Citymetric territory.

Here’s a mostly spoiler-free guide to Black Panther’s urbanism and transport.

City planning

It’s to the credit of Black Panther’s crew that there’s anything to talk about here at all. Fictional cities in previous Marvel films, such as Asgard from the Thor films or Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces.

Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city.

It’s almost a real city. Image: Marvel/Disney

We only really see one area close-up: Steptown, which according to designer Ruth Carter is the city’s hipster district. How the Golden City ended up with a bohemian area is never explained. In many cities, these formed where immigrants, artists and students arrived to take advantage of lower rents, but this seems unlikely with Wakanda’s stable economy and zero migration. Did the Golden City gentrify?

Urban transport

When we get out and about, things get a bit weirder. The narrow pedestrianised sand-paved street is crowded and lined with market stalls on both sides, yet a futuristic tram runs right down the middle. The tram’s resemblance to the chunky San Francisco BART trains is not a coincidence – director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland.

Steptown Streetcar, with a hyperloop train passing overhead. Image: Marvel/Disney.

People have to dodge around the tram, and the street is far too narrow for a second tram to pass the other way. This could be a single-track shuttle (like the former Southport Pier Tram), a one-way loop (like the Detroit People Mover) or a diversion through narrow streets (like the Dublin Luas Cross City extension). But no matter what, it’s a slow and inefficient way to get people around a major city. Hopefully there’s an underground station lurking somewhere out of shot.


Over the street runs a *shudder* hyperloop. If you’re concerned that Elon Musk’s scheme has made its way to Wakanda, don’t worry – this train bears no resemblance to Musk’s design. Rather, it’s a flying train that levitates between hoops in the open air. It travels very fast – too fast for urban transport, since it crosses a whole neighbourhood in a couple of seconds – and it doesn’t seem to have many stops, even at logical interchange points where the lines cross. Its main purpose is probably to bring people from outlying suburbs into the centre quickly.

There’s one other urban transport system seen in the film: as befitting a major riverside city, it has a ferry or waterbus system. We get a good look at the barges carrying tribal leaders to the ceremonial waterfalls, but overhead shots show other boats on the more mundane business of shuttling people up and down the river.

Transport outside the city

Unfortunately there’s less to say here. Away from the city, we only see people riding horses, following cattle-drawn sleds, or simply walking long distances. This is understandable given Wakanda’s masquerading as a developing country, but it makes the country very urban centric. Perhaps that’s why the Jabari hate the other tribes so much – poor transport investment means the only way to reach them is a narrow, winding mountain pass.

The one exception is in freight transport. Wakanda has a ridiculously developed maglev network for transporting vibranium ore. This actually follows a pattern seen in a lot of real African countries: take a look at a map of the continent and you’ll see most railways run to the coast.

Image: Bucksy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are primarily freight railways built to transport resources from mines and plantations to ports, with passenger transport an afterthought.

A high-speed maglev seems like overkill for carrying ore, especially as the film goes out of its way to point out that vibranium is too unstable to take on high-speed trains without careful safety precautions. Nevertheless, the scene where Shuri and Ross geek out about these maglevs might just be the single most relatable in any Marvel movie.

A very extravagant freight line. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Perhaps this all makes sense though. Wakanda is still an absolute monarchy, and without democratic input its king is naturally going to choose exciting hyperloop and maglev projects over boring local and regional transport links.

Here’s hoping the next Black Panther film sees T’Challa reforming Wakanda’s government, and then getting really stuck into double-track improvements to the Steptown Streetcar.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray tweets as @stejormur.

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