London Mayor Sadiq Khan Vows to Protect London's Live Music Scene

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Sadiq Khan, Mayor-elect of London, leaves Southwark Cathedral on May 7, 2016 in London.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to protect the city’s world famous cultural heritage and introduce greater protection for venue owners.

Since 2007, the British capital has lost 35 percent of its grassroots music venues. Owners and operators have cited a combination of rising rents and oppressive licensing restrictions behind the decline of a once vibrant scene, according to a 2015 report from the Music Venue Trust.

Numbered among the famous central London venues that closed in that time is the Marquee, Astoria, 12 Bar Club and Madame Jojos, while last fall The Coronet announced that it was to close in January 2017 after almost 140 years of trading. More recently, legendary dance club Fabric had its license revoked by Islington council following the drug related deaths of two 18-year-olds earlier this summer. 

The threat to London’s cultural heritage is not just limited to the live music sector, either. The future of Mayfair’s historic Curzon cinema, which is over 80 years old and regularly holds art house film premieres, is currently at risk after developers 38 Curzon complained about noise levels emanating from the property. The company is converting office space above the film theater into luxury flats and reportedly wants the cinema to pay £500,000 ($650,000) towards soundproofing improvements – a cost that the Curzon says it cannot afford. A petition to save the cinema has received over 25,000 signatures.   

Writing on his Facebook page, Khan said that intends to protect cultural institutions like the Curzon Mayfair by introducing the ‘Agent of Change’ principle into the next London Plan, an overarching review that sets out an overall strategic plan for the city.

Enforcement of the so-called Agent of Change principle, which puts the onus on property developers to mitigate against noise complaints from existing venues or businesses, “would mean developers building flats near existing venues will need to ensure that residents are not unduly affected by sound from the venue,” wrote Khan.

In 2014, world renowned London nightclub Ministry of Sound successfully applied the Agent of Change principle after a long-running dispute with developers wanting to build of an apartment block opposite the club. In that instance, pursuing the legal case and protecting the venue's future took over four years and over £1 million ($1.5 million) -- costs that are prohibitive to the majority of venue operators.

“We need a progressive outlook and understanding about London’s nightlife,” Alan Miller, chairman of the Night Time Industries Association, tells Billboard. “There’s a reason why people like Industrial Light & Magic come to London – the best and brightest people in the world want to located somewhere that has a frisson; that has an eclectic and exciting culture. Policy makers and stakeholders all have to under the value of that,” adds Miller, who cites the forthcoming introduction of a night mayor -- similar to the model already applied in Amsterdam -- as one initiative that can help protect London’s music and cultural offer.