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UK Music Industry Bands Together to Save Grassroots Venues From Closure

Music industry representatives gather outside Parliament in support of the agent of change bill.
Courtesy of UK Music

Music industry representatives gather outside Parliament in support of the agent of change bill.

"It isn't talent shows on television or theatre schools that propagate great music, it's small venues," said Chrissie Hynde.

A bill that supporters say will give greater protection to venue owners and help protect the future of the U.K. live music scene has been introduced in British Parliament.

The "Planning (Agent of Change) Bill" received its first reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Jan. 10), following a gathering of music industry representatives outside Westminster. A second reading is scheduled for later this month.

Over the past decade 35 percent of music venues in the U.K. have closed their doors, according to Music Venue Trust figures, with London’s Marquee, 12 Bar Club and Madame Jojos among the most high-profile losses. 

Key factors behind the closures include rising rents and licensing restrictions. Development of prime real estate, particularly in the capital, is also commonly cited as a cause behind the decline of a once thriving live scene and it’s this element in particular that the "Agent of Change" bill is looking to combat.

If passed, the legislation would mean that property developers would have to take account the impact of any new scheme on pre-existing businesses like music venues before going ahead.

One example would be the developer of a block of flats being required to install soundproofing to mitigate against any noise from an existing music venue. A draft version of the legislation has already been proposed for London and, if approved, is due to come into effect next fall. But UK Music would like to see the same protection extended to venue owners throughout the U.K.

Numbered among the venues that have had to fight closure threats in recent years are Ministry of Sound, which spent over £1 million ($1.35 million) in legal costs when its future was threatened by plans to build an apartment block opposite the famous London club. 

UK Music cites Bristol live music venues the Thekla and the Fiddlers and the Fleece, as well as the Womanby Street music quarter in Cardiff, as cultural institutions that are currently under threat from developers. Last year, The Square in Harlow, which played host to early shows by Coldplay, Blur and Muse, closed as a result of a planning dispute.

The campaign to stop other music venues suffering the same fate has already attracted the support of Billy Bragg, Brian Eno, Imogen Heap, Ray Davies, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason and Sir Paul McCartney, who has previously warned "If we don't support music at this level, then the future of music in general is in danger."

"Fewer venues means less work, less opportunity to develop talent or even find out that you are not going to make it in the industry, but also to move up from amateur to part-time, to full-time, to national or even international stardom," said John Spellar, the MP who tabled the bill in Parliament, in a statement.

According to UK Music data, the British music industry contributes over £4 billion ($5.4 billion) to the national economy with over 30 million people attending live events in 2016.

Calling on the government to back the proposed legislation, UK Music chief executive Michael Dugher called the venues that service the sector crucial to its future survival.    

His words were echoed by Chrissie Hynde, who said in a statement, "It isn't talent shows on television or theatre schools that propagate great music, it's small venues."

"They're the setting of everything great that's come out of the music scene in this country, from The Beatles to Oasis and beyond," she stated.   

Hynde went on to say that, "if small venues shut down, so will England's unique creative output." 

"It will be like locking up playgrounds at schools. The whole world will suffer," warned the singer, "not just England."

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