The legislation that would stop venues being shut down by noise complaints has even received backing from Paul McCartney.
Photo: UK Music
A long-anticipated backbench bill to reform planning law in England has passed its first reading in parliament in what could be an important step in protecting the future of Bristol nightlife.
The legislation to introduce the ‘agent of change’ principle would force developers to soundproof new flats built near late-night venues and prevent venues being lumbered with the costs.
After receiving widespread support that stretches across parties, the bill’s crucial second reading will be on Friday 19 January.
Bristol East MP, Kerry McCarthy, who has been campaigning for agent of change for years, welcomed the bill as “a vital means of protecting the future of our best-loved grassroots music venues”.
“All too often planning laws have placed unreasonable demands on small venues, threatening the development of our world-beating music industry,” she said.
“I am pleased that this bill recognises the challenges that music venues face. I call on the Government to secure its speedy passage into law.”
The Music Venue Trust, which has championed the policy alongside campaign group UK Music, said it was “immensely proud of everyone who has worked so hard to make this vital change”.
The calls to bring agent of change into law intensified in Bristol in November after a campaign was launched to protect beloved music venue Thekla from a residential development.
Bristol City Council granted planning permission for a development across the water at Redcliffe Wharf despite a noise assessment being deemed inadequate.
Since the plans to convert nearby offices into flats were announced in 2013, owner Chris Sharp has been negotiating with developers and the council to limit the risk of noise complaints from new residents.
In reaction to the initial progress of the agent of change bill, he told the Cable: “It’s great news for music venues around the country.
“Obviously it’s not the end of the battle, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” he added.
Unlike The Fleece, not all venues have survived. Live music pubs, the Stag and Hounds and the Kingsdown Wine Vaults, shut down in 2017, and The Surrey Vaults also fell victim to noise complaints from luxury apartments in November.
Roughly a third of grassroots music venues and half of nightclubs in the UK have closed since 2007.
Fiddlers in Bedminster is the latest venue to be affected by a nearby development. The venue only found out about the planning application in November after months of discussions between the council and developers.
Owner Daniel Cleary said at a council meeting in December that agent of change was needed to “protect grassroots venues who contribute to the reputation of Bristol, without which the city would be destroyed”.
Mayor Marvin Rees had previously offered his support for the reform in December, saying that he was “keen to see our cultural venues thrive at the same time as providing homes in our city centre”.
The principle has already been included by London mayor Sadiq Khan in his draft London Plan, the long-term development strategy for the capital, while London’s first ever ‘night czar’, Amy Lamé, is using it to protect venues from developments.
While presenting the bill to the House of Commons on Wednesday, Labour MP John Spellar, called for “urgent action” from the government to “preserve the vibrancy and diversity of city life”.
He praised the grassroots campaign in Bristol and the sponsors of the bill, McCarthy and Bristol West MP, Thangam Debbonaire.
He spoke of the “widespread cross party support” and welcomed backing from music greats, including Paul McCartney, Ray Davies and Craig David.