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.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.