As Liverpool City Council announces the venue protecting Agent of Change Act, Getintothis’ Will Whitby talks to Liverpool venues and promoters about its impact.
A walk past Wolstenholme Square now shows sites of euphoria transformed into soulless, grey, towering flats.
Regeneration can be a good thing and has changed the face of Liverpool, but when a new block of flats is taking away the very spark of creativity that attracts so many to the city, the result can only be damaging.
The once colourful Balls of Penelope by Jorge Pardo have been left to rot, towering over the cobbles where Liverpool revellers once walked.
Creative minds have always moved around the city and with the loss of Wolstenholme Square it has meant the Baltic Triangle and North Liverpool’s Ten Streets have now flourished. But now, venues can put a marker in the ground and say, “back off, we were here first.”
Over the past ten years, 35% of music venues across the country have closed.
Although it could be said that venues will always come and go, adopting the Agent of Change principle will allow venues to run their course and not shut down before their time is up.
Legally speaking, the Agent of Change principle defines that a person or business who is changing the use of space, land or building must be responsible for managing the impact of the change.
Most commonly, the principle focuses on noise complaints from new residential buildings towards neighbouring bars and venues.
The Music Venue Trust was one of the first organisations to spearhead this idea, stating that: “The Agent of Change principle is not complicated or controversial, it’s simply common sense.”
Before it was devised, UK law was pretty unbalanced in instances of noise complaints to venues.
Essentially, those who were making the noise were responsible for stopping the noise, even if those complaining had just moved in the week before and that venue had been there for several years.
The notion of “the venue got their first” simply didn’t matter.
Liverpool City Council now seeks to be one of the first areas in the country to officially adopt the principle to protect the region’s live music venues from premature and unfair closure.
The Act has proven successful in London, as much like Liverpool, the capital saw a rapid decline in grassroots music venues between 2007-2016 where up to 34% of venues closed.
Since Sadiq Khan implemented the Act, the number of grassroots venues in London has bounced back, growing to over 100.
Getintothis approached a number of venues and promoters in Liverpool to comment and share their experiences around the issue of noise complaints and what this innovative piece of policy means for Merseyside.
The most common thing we heard was that the Act needed to be used as legal leverage to make effective changes across the city. Everyone believed the Act should be used to its full potential at every opportunity to have the necessary impact.
The need for it to force developers to cooperate and provide effective sonic insulation within their properties was something everyone agreed with too.
The venues understood the struggle that Liverpool City Council have had trying to support local music and everyone saw value in the principle of giving local government more power.
Praise too was passed onto the LCR Music Board as they were part of the driving force to get the principle set up within the city, venues see it as an effective and now essential lobbying body.
Everyone agreed that Agent of Change is a good step forward to helping protect Liverpool’s musicscape, but some opinions and experiences differed across the city.
Below are some of their reactions.
Tristan Brady-Jacobs is part of the team that runs bohemian pub Hobo Kiosk in Baltic Triangle. He also has a place on the board to discuss the future of the creative quarter as well as running a charity that opens up temporary or ‘meanwhile’ spaces for creative use.
He praised the Act as “very welcome as it recognises the cities requirement for a healthy grassroots music industry.”
Brady-Jacobs commented on Liverpool City Council trying to implement the attitudes set around the principle before it was put in place: “they have been very supportive of those venues who have suffered the most. The builders I have spoken to were told by the council that 24 Kitchen Street was a jewel and a protected item. They have always had a desire to keep the initial ethos of something like Baltic Triangle going.”
Since 2010, Liverpool City Council’s budget has been cut by more than £420 million or 68%.
Liverpool City Council has no statutory obligation to focus funding to cultural events but within its 2017-18 budget, it allocated 2.2% of the budget, at £9.6 million, to culture.
The contribution dwarfed Manchester City Council’s 2017-18 spend of 1.2% of their budget at £6.6 million.
Yes, the spending on large scale events like The Giants and The River Festival is good for photos and tourism, however the venues believed Liverpool City Council should place more trust in the creative operators that attract people to the city and dish out more funding to those groups.
“Let people who have proved they know how to run venues into empty council-controlled spaces,” said Brady-Jacobs as he supported the idea.
Discussing the need for natural growth within a city’s venue ecology, he continued to question how some people define success. “We need to stop thinking of it as rent paid, tickets sold, alcohol served etc. The city has lent towards a sugar rush economy and forgot the slow burners as sometimes a venue needs patience.
The culture of this city comes from the streets. We must protect that.”
Brady-Jacobs spoke poetically about the need to retain historic buildings as a cultural weight, even if the venue goes away: “It is a shame to lose a gig night. But it is even worse to lose a building. Once it is gone it is gone.”
Budding from the glorious Liverpool music institute The Kazimier in Wolstenholme Square, the venue collective knows all about losing an iconic space to the pockets of property developers.
They take measures to reduce sound leakage at IWF and have restrictions at Kaz Gardens to limit noise.
Although the news of Agent of Change was met positively, Naughton still doesn’t feel much safer from the dangers venues face and thinks that it needs to be implemented on developments where a venue is in danger to test its effectiveness. “I’m optimistic and encouraged by it,” he says, “but we need it to be seen to be working.”
This scepticism was justified as news of a luxury four-star hotel within the area of IWF has left Naughton questioning the planning application. He believes it is “not showing signs of taking into account this Agent of Change, as it could threaten all the work they have done at IWF and the rest of the artistic cluster around us”
However, Naughton praised the positive moves in the creation of The Music Venues Trust and Night Time Industries Association, who both champion the cause of independent venues across the country.
Collaboration between these organisations and forward-thinking local authorities is needed to realise how important local venues are to cities and to help them stay secure.
Like Brady-Jacobs, Naughton saw the effective security and tenure of venues as a priority but feels venues also need to consider necessary support for the viability of businesses: “most venues just simply go out of business. Its tight margins and high risk as it is very difficult to stay in the game whilst offering a grassroots and quality programme.”
The Zanzibar recently changed hands to Scott Burgess after the sad passing of its previous legendary owner, Tony Butler. Since taking the helm the Zanzibar has continued to pioneer young and emerging talent as Burgess begins work on his 20 Mile Radar campaign to promote music made within 20 miles of the venue.
The Zanzibar has managed to continue to deliver within the Seel Street area as similar icons like The Kazimier, Nation and Mello Mello have disappeared.
He saw the announcement of Agent of Change a very positive change especially in high foot traffic areas of the city like his: “every five minutes you spot a new development getting built, who knows if the next one could land over the road.”
Agent of Change would mean that if a new block of flats were to land in the area, The Zanzibar would remain and continue to be loud and proud and the Liverpool icon would stand strong, Burgess said they have yet to encounter any serious noise complaints.
From past experiences, Burgess said that most people who live near venues “understood how the world works and would always get looked after when they came in as a guest.”
Burgess believes the proof is in the pudding regarding the LCR Music Board and believes everyone should get behind it as “if their priority wasn’t in safeguarding venues, then it would be simply impossible to grow music locally.
I think we have to put a bit of trust in the LCR to protect the DNA of this city.”
Laura King is the licensee at popular Jazz pub and creative hub, The Caledonia near the University of Liverpool. The values and experiences of venues differ all over the city as The Caledonia haven’t had many problems in the past with noise pollution.
The number of students and young people in the area appear to have a higher tolerance for noise and have allowed the venue to create an exciting program of music.
However, the pub is also very proactive towards limiting noise taking steps to create their internal policy engaging with musicians to develop appropriate amplification for space.
Measures to control customers with a designated smoking area to limit the spread of noise and just keeping doors & windows closed has also helped. All venues must take easy similar steps to show they care about noise pollution.
King recognised how it “can make future development tolerable & manageable” as guidelines are supported for every party. The principle gives the council and venues freedom to go beyond traditional procedure and have more power with their future.
Genevieve Lamb of Liverpool promoter, ParrJazz is at the forefront of the emerging jazz scene within Merseyside. The promoter has recently moved its flagship jazz nights to The Jacaranda on Slater Street.
Many of the venues that Lamb and Parrjazz work with were said to have struggled to survive amongst residential developments. Lamb describes the struggle of some of the venues she works with as “restrictive and unfair” as ultimately, the venue existed before residential property.
She hopes that the change will mean “smaller venues who don’t have the necessary finances or legal weight to fight issues will be offered support and hopefully will be guaranteed more time to grow and flourish.”
She places the credit widely to the LCR Music Board who have been treating the act as a major issue to lobby local and national government.
Lamb believes “there are people now at the helm of Liverpool’s music wealth who have industry experience and knowledge. The board is a great asset to the council in terms of walking the shop floor for information and this new legislation reflects that.”
Lamb continued to push for the idea of collaboration and different music sectors working together in the city for it to grow. “Liverpool is not a big city and there is a huge amount of live music going on for its size and audience numbers, we need to be mindful of each other’s work as well as protecting the venues for live music,” she said.
Although it is still relatively early days, I believe that this shows a local government engaging and caring about its creative communities. Liverpool City Council has valued what a thriving local music industry can do for the city and is now listening to the city itself to make great changes.
For the act to be effective it should be implemented immediately so we don’t lose music venues. Some small venues are struggling as the factors and costs of running venues grow and Agent of Change means that venues have one less thing to worry about.
However, I also believe that venues should take steps to lower noise pollution. It was seen with The Caledonia, small changes can make a big difference and show the community the venue values them.
High praise must be given to the LCR Music Board as it is already proving that collective conversation and lobbying the forward-thinking local government has worked. Collaboration is key when everyone in the city wants the same end goal of making Liverpool the best music city in the world.
Ultimately, Agent of Change means that Liverpool can continue to triumph with a thriving live music scene and vast ecology of venues. A city taking control of the future is nothing to be sneered at.