Apr
10
2018

Music venues, noise and neighbours

Headlines in local and national press often blame noise complaints for the closure music venues. There are times when a venue and its neighbours can’t coexist – but planning and building good relationships can go a long way towards enabling peaceful coexistence between entertainment premsies and neighbours. Noise Action Week is an opportunity for local authorities, venues, performers and neighbours to listen to each other when it comes to noise and create a healthy community for all to thrive in.

Planning and music venues

A single noise complaint can’t close a venue, but if noise proves a persistent problem, a local authority will work with the venue in an effort to reduce sound volume to an acceptable level for neighbours. Venues that were once surrounded by commercial or former commercial units repeatedly come under pressure as new residential development is proposed nearby. High profile examples have include the Fleece and Firkin in Bristol and Womanby Street in Cardiff.

In an effort to balance the interests of developers, venues and their neighbours planning regulation and guidance has been progressively tweaked. The latest iteration of this is the proposal to amend wording in the National Planning Policy Framework, so that it will read “Where an existing business or community facility has effects that could be deemed a statutory nuisance in the light of new development (including changes of use) in its vicinity, the applicant (or agent of change) should be required to secure suitable mitigation before the development is completed.” – in other words, the responsibility is put on a developer to prevent noise problems from occurring. While on the face of it this seems reasonable, deciding what ‘suitable mitigation’ is where residential buildings are proposed close to music venues/pubs/clubs may well prove challenging. Where noise is a problem, solutions can be as simple as building understanding relationships with neighbours, closing windows and doors (and installing alternative ventilation where necessary), or moving speakers. Often more technical solutions are required – especially in buildings not built for entertainment. Here limiting sound levels and improving sound insulation might be required – solutions that come at a cost which is hard for small venues to meet. We have a housing shortage, people can’t always choose where they live and is sealing people inside properties (thereby creating a requirement for artificial ventilation) really a sustainable answer and in the interests of cohesive communities?

Rather than building homes where residents are cut off from the neighbourhood by sealed windows, it would be preferable for developers to work with venues, helping them meet the costs of improving their sound insulation. However, if problems arise, would the burden of solving it then fall back to the venue?

Valuing Live Music

Live music and the night time entertainment are recognised as important contributors to our culture and economy – and should benefit the communities they co-exist with rather than cause disturbance. While noise is often a serious problem where neighbours’ lives are disturbed, other factors are affecting live music venues. In 2017 an academic study – Valuing Live Music: the UK Live Music Census – surveyed venues across the UK and analysed the challenges they faced. They found business rates, planning and development and competition between venues all put pressure on these small businesses.

Music is noise at work

Anyone attending a gig or dance night chooses to expose themselves to loud music (noise). For anyone working on the gig, they are being exposed to noise at work – this includes venue staff, sound/lighting technicians and performers.  While for venue neighbours, noise can cause sleep disruption and annoyance, for musicians, turning it too loud can damage hearing.  In a recent landmark case classical viola player Chris Goldscheider won a ruling in  the High Court against the Royal Opera House, where his hearing was irrparabley damaged during a rehearsal of Wagner where noise levels reached 130 decibels (as loud as a jet engine). His solicitor highlighted the significance of the judgement saying the ruling has huge implications for the music business as “an industry which creates and sells ‘noise’ as a product.”  Both classical and ‘pop’ musicians are at risk – musicians suffer hearing damage from many styles of music. Will.i.am, Grimes, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry of The Who, Sting and Ozzy Osbourne have all damaged their hearing through turning it up to 11. While we don’t want to lose the music its time to consider quality over volume and turn it down – so everyone can enjoy it without harming their hearing.

Use Noise Action Week to keep the peace

Planners, policy makers, and venues have a lot to ponder – and Noise Action Week is an opportunity to focus attention on the issues to ensure live music can thrive and contribute to a healthy culture and vibrant local communities.

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