With the wheels in motion for a Masterplan for the Baltic Triangle and a focus on new developments in the adjoining neighbourhoods, Getintothis’ Chris Flack, looks at the direction of travel.
And that’s why we’re starting in Brighton.
The Blind Tiger in Brighton as it happens. The Blind Tiger originally traded as The Norfolk Arms, it had done so since it was built in the mid-1800s. It saw a few changes over its 160 years, of decor and name, it closed over a noise abatement order that had been placed with the council.
That noise abatement order had come from the new residents of the flat above the venue. The venue, for their part, tried everything they could to reduce the noise and vibration over the years, but the notices from the council kept on coming. The venue finally gave up to the ghosts of The Norfolk Arms in 2014.
It’s important to highlight this again. The Blind Tiger had been a bar and a venue since the mid-1800s, it was lauded in every list going, it was a core part of every festival in the city. It was the definition of a grassroots, community led event space where new talent plied their trade and schemes were hatched.
We could guess that the flat abve the venue would have been for the pub landlord to live in, in years gone by. In 2000 the property was separated by a developer and the ever – revolving door of new neighbours took exception to the noise from the live music venue they chose to live above.
It’s now a Brewdog, and like most Brewdog bars, doesn’t play music and rarely opens later than 11pm.
Take Darlington Cricket Club as another case in point.
Darlington Cricket Club first broke ground in 1866. Not very long ago a new housing development was built beside the ground and, yes, you’ve guessed it, the noise abatement orders started to pour into the council.
The complaints really rolled in when the club applied to the council to make some changes to ground use. The issues new residents complained about included “the noise of the bat striking the ball”, “the effort of batting and bowling” (see cricketers grunting) and complainants citing a lack of privacy caused by their windows being very near a cricket ground that was built in 1866. 1866.
Thankfully, the council laughed up their sleeves, changes to the ground were recommended for approval. Darlington though, is an interesting tale. It highlights the absurdity of what happens when the one man and his castle mentality kicks in with regard to what you think are noisy neighbours.
Imagine 400 flats going up beside a venue that puts on all night raves and has a rooftop smoking area? Cricketers dropping trousers to readjust their pads or grunting is going to look like child’s play next to that.
See where I’m going?
Since 2007, 35% of grassroots music venues closed in London. 35%. The list of historic venues that no longer exist for one reason or another is eye watering. The London Astoria saw Nirvana, Radiohead and Amy Winehouse grace its stage, it was pulled down to make way for Crossrail.
The Barfly in Cardiff closed over financial pressures and a lack of sectoral support in 2010. It saw Kings Of Leon, Interpol and The Black Keys all play in its hallowed brick lined vaults over the years.
The Roadhouse in Manchester was met with a wrecking ball, The Hammersmith Palais in London was replaced by a block of student flats, Electric Circus in Edinburgh was changed to an art gallery on the whims of a landlord, Turnmills in London, the beating heart of dance music in the UK, was turned into offices in 2008, and almost fittingly perhaps, the loss of The Metro Club in London was another Crossrail related purchase order and demolition.
The fight to save Womanby Street in Cardiff is worthy of a missive all its own. Womanby Street in Cardiff is one of the few success stories to come from a list of losses that is almost without end. The Hacienda, flats. The Odeon in Nottingham, flats. The Mean Fiddler, Crossrail. Vibe Bar on Brick lane in London, noise complaints. The Picture House in Edinburgh. Now a Wetherspoons.
We mourn the loss of the Kazimier, Cream and Mello Mello, and we need to be mindful of what follows investment, what happens when a place suddenly looks cool and creative.
Student flats and apartments, mostly.
Regardless of any prior agreement with the council or the developer, and we’re reluctant to say this, 24 Kitchen Streets‘ future is under a cloud of sorts with a monster block of apartments currently in progress next door. What the landlord says and what residents do once they move in are two very different things.
Constellations is due to make way for another block of flats*. The clash between inward investment, redevelopment, creativity and nightlife is one that probably hasn’t played out fully, not just yet anyway. The next big test is the 296 luxury apartments going up beside Cains, Hinterlands and Tusk, because that’s bound to be a seamless integration, that.
How many people party around there of a Saturday night?
Alongside 24 Kitchen Street, you might suggest that Kaz Gardens and Jacaranda Phase One might feel the pinch in the coming months as the buildings that replaced Cream and Kazimer become homes. With Balconies. And does anyone remember the plans to house Cream in the basement? Yeah. We do.
It sounded like lunacy when they announced it and is clearly not happening. Surprised? No.
Any city would be foolish to turn their nose up at inward investment. Any city would be foolish to turn their nose up at regeneration in an area that suffers physical dereliction like the Baltic Triangle. We shouldn’t have to point it out, but not all investment is welcome news to the creative and digital arts sector in situ.
Creatives, tech heads and lunatics tend to set up businesses in areas where they can afford to, that’s pretty much why the Baltic Triangle exists. It was built and thrives on the blood sweat and tears of those who take massive gambles to follow their dreams.
It would be an interesting exercise to see how many people down there bet their house on their business, how many of them maxxed out every slither of plastic in their wallets to make those dreams a reality.
Two things converge at this point. There is unquestionably a long list of closures, a long list of businesses that went kaput and organisations that have closed due to a dozen different factors. But mostly, it’s down to the developers, the landlords and neighbours.
Some have taken remarkable steps to ensure that their businesses survive in the midst of change, The Lexington in London. They were so tired of noise abatement orders from a rental property next door that when it came on the market, they bought it, offering the apartments therein to their staff to rent. That’s a remarkable thing to have to do. Collectively, we’ve all let these people down.
The loss of the The Blind Tiger was the final straw that broke the back of one too many camels and led to the creation of the Music Venue Trust. They’ve been instrumental in ensuring that the Agent of Change policy was added to the National Planning Policy Framework. (This is the boring bit. Sorry)
That policy framework is the basis for planning, redevelopment and any ‘Masterplans’ going into the future and it is probably the Baltic Triangles‘ best friend. The Agent of Change essentially means that any new development must be integrated easily into existing community and business facilities. Well, it is in England and Wales at least, Scotland isn’t quite there yet and Northern Ireland is, well, best avoided here.
As an example, some of the more recent examples of new buildings in this city, that thing falling apart opposite the Philharmonic Hall for one, wouldn’t pass muster on ensuring that residential apartments didn’t suffer with the kind of noise levels you’d expect in the cloakroom at The Zanzibar, for example.
As an aside, that crumbling leaking monstrosity, shouldn’t have passed muster in any shape or form. It stands as a bright light to show the kind of decisions that city planners can make. Its hideous.
Sticky backed, fake brick fronted boxes do not a community make.
According to the Agent of Change it’s now up the developer to make sure that new buildings are soundproofed, secure and sit well in their new locals. That they blend in, that they look like a natural fit and that everyone in the community where they appear are given the same room to breathe and grow.
The thinking is that the new residents, when they come, won’t feel like handing out raffle tickets to every loon that staggers passed their front door. And we wouldn’t want them too. The onus on harmonious community development and regeneration lies with the developer. And the developer alone.
That is probably the bit that scares us most. Developers exist to make money, they’ve got a bit of form in pulling down historic, beautiful buildings to replace them with shoe box sized flats and airless spaces. Developers have raised many a performance space to the ground and led to enough noise abatement orders to kill off plenty of venues around the country. It’s not that we’re against new homes, new workspaces or new public spaces, that’s simply not the case.
But there needs to be a sympathetic view on what will work where and how those things cohabit when the lights go down. The quality of the new builds is crucial to the inhabitants happiness and health. What the Baltic Triangle needs is infrastructure, transport, useable public spaces, better broadband, support.
Any thriving city centre you might visit on a long weekend works because there are people living above the shop, most city centres in the UK are dead at night because there are four floors of dead space above most shops. It’s all dust filled storerooms, or deserted social spaces like the ballroom above Superdrug on Parker Street, where John & Yoko had their wedding reception. (Luxury flats coming soon!)
That’s not the case in cities like Barcelona, or Paris, or anywhere really, places where the lines between commerce and home are blurred, where breakfast can be the cafe downstairs and where home is as important as access to a Marksies three for ten deal. And we love a Marksies three for ten deal, us.
We welcome new developments, we welcome the opportunity for an area to grow and change, we welcome the idea that there will be a ready supply of coffee joints, shared, creative office spaces and lunch spots, we don’t want that to impinge on what is there, to cost people their livelihoods, or their houses.
And here is the rub. We’ve seen all too often that Masterplans and public consultations are used as a fait accomplis by those who organise and sponsor them. If it wasn’t brought up in the initial phases of consultation councils cry foul on hearing new concerns, they suggest that they agreed with everyone and that all development is good after the fact, regardless of the casualties.
And that’s why, if you have anything that even reasonably looks like a stake in the areas under consideration, you should make sure that your voice is an integral part of the next few months.
It isn’t enough to hope that the Council or LDA Design have peoples best intentions at heart, it’s up to the people who live and work in the Baltic Triangle, to those who use it, party in it, practice their art in it, place their businesses in it, and those who create magical wondrous events and festivals in it and invest their own money and time need to get involved.
We all need to make sure that this process, this Masterplan, checks in with reality.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article said Constellations was due to make way for flats at the end of summer 2018, however, Getintothis has received an update informing us of a 6 month extension and the team will be operating on site until the end of 2019. Becky Wild, from Constellations, said: “As the developers know more about the timescale for the plans at the top of Greenland Street there is the potential that this may be extended again. We’ve now begun to confirm with all our bookings and regular events who had dates on hold with us until we had the latest confirmation and will likely continue in this same pattern into 2020.“