Live music, noise and neighbours

seen in a Brighton student rich neighbourhood

seen in a Brighton student rich neighbourhood

 In recent years extension of pub licensing hours and liberalisation of licensing for live music has meant that there are a much wider range of opportunities for musicians to perform. However, increasingly, with pressure for housing, and development of inner city brownfield sites, many places where music is played are faced with the prospect of residential neighbours. Many traditional live music venues established themselves in premises in former industrial areas of city centres, with few, if any neighbours to be bothered by night time noise. However, all venues are bound by law to comply with the conditions of their licenses and keep noise within reasonable levels. As well as preventing annoyance and nuisance problems with neighbours, this is also in the interests of protecting hearing health of venue staff, performers and the audience. Did you know Chris Martin of Coldplay has tinnitus, caused by exposure to loud music, and Who guitarist Pete Townshed also suffers hearing damge from years of playing loud guitar.

Over recent months there has been growing concern voiced from the musicians and music venues about the threat they perceive to their activities from residential development. They believe  potential noise complaints can close them down – and jeopardise the creative industry that is the UK’s live music scene. But is this really the case?

The Music Venue Trust – has been set up to represent the interests of small venues.  To combat the threat they perceive neighbours pose to venues,  they are lobbying for an  Agent of Change principle to be introduced. This would require any developer building homes near an existing live music venue or a person knowingly moving in proximity to a venue responsible for avoiding the impact of noise – for example by sound insulation, double glazing and sealed windows.  A small victory has already been achieved with the tweaking of planning guidance by government to accommodate this view. It now states where a new residential development is to be located next to an existing business, like a music venue, “appropriate mitigation should be considered, including optimising the sound insulation provided by the new development’s building envelope.” In Understanding Small Music Venues – a report published last  week and launched in Westminster, calls are made for changes to legislation governing complaints.

However, many people who live in inner cities – often flats in converted industrial premises – don’t necessarily choose to live there. Social housing tenants and those on lower incomes are just likely to occupy premises near venues that potentially create noise because it is what’s affordable for them. While other neighbours in what can be consider prime locations may be knowingly moving into to very expensive, but hermetically sealed, aparmments. Are these really the kind of urban “communities” we want to create?  Currently neighbours of any business are protected from unreasonable noise intrusion into their homes by the nuisance provisions in the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Contrary to campaigners claims, a noise complaint (malicious or legitimate) does not need to  lead to the instant closure of premises. It marks the start of a lengthy period of investigation by the local authority. They seek a solution, advising premises on ways to mitigate any noise problems to enable the business to continue. It is only where no solution can be found to the noise that venues close – and frequently other factors are involved. For example, following a protracted high profile noise case the Night and Day Cafe in Manchester did not lose its license – it agreed to manage noise and talk to its neighbours regularly to avoid problems – a sensible and balanced solution.  The Blind Tiger Club in Brighton did close – however, despite assertions by campaigners that a single noise complaint resulted in closure – Brighton and Hove City Council  stated that it was the noisiest premises their officer had encountered, complaints were recieved from three nearby streets and the venue itself took the decision to close. The premises subsequently re-opened and is now a thriving bar – showing a late night business can operate in that location.

So, if you’re a musician or part of the audience that enjoys live music, remember that the law exists, and has done so for many years, not just to protect the rights of venues’ neighbours to be able to enjoy their homes, but also to protect the hearing health of staff in venues. While its up to the muscians and the audience whether they want to expose themselves to noise levels that will damage their hearing – surely you’d prefer to continue  listening to music and not suffer hearing damage? Music should be there for us all  to enjoy at a time and place of our choosing, and live music venues and musicians can and should be good neighbours, playing in harmony with the local community – not creating a noise problem and conflict in neighbourhoods.

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