Nurturing music: the agent of change

Introducing an “agent of change” principle to planning and licensing law would boost live music and protect residents. Alex Staniforth explains.

Former Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney has been in the news locally and nationally recently calling for the “Agent of Change” principle to be introduced across the UK.   He is concerned – as am I – that the cultural vibrancy of our cities and the nourishing of new talent will suffer if steps are not taken to protect live music venues.

The “Agent of Change” principle would mean that planners, for example, have to take into account what is already there when granting or refusing applications. For example, if a developer builds new housing next to a long-established music venue, the onus would be on the developer to ensure that the new houses were soundproofed enough that there would be no new complaints to the council over noise from the venue. As with planning, so too with licences for live music.

Equally, the principle acts to protect residents. If a developer sought to build a new music venue next to existing housing, then the onus would be on the developer to ensure that the building did not cause noise or nuisance for residents.

The benefits this would bring to music and entertainment venues are obvious – right now any venue which plays music of sufficient volume faces the prospect that a housing development will spring up next to them and they’ll go from having no complaints to being dragged before the licensing board just for doing the kind of things they have been doing for years or even decades. The most recent example of this in Edinburgh was Studio 24 where complaints from people living in newly constructed residences was a major factor in the owner’s decision to cease trading

Understandably it is the benefit to the music industry – and the risk to it if Agent of Change is not adopted as a national principle – that Paul McCartney focused on. However the Agent of Change principle also brings benefit to residents. It would mean that new music venues would be absolutely required to tailor themselves to fit the needs and desires of nearby residents. There would be no chance of a new development plan or new licensing rules meaning your home goes from being on a quiet street to being right outside party central! In short it brings security to current venues and current residents while at the same time making the duties of developers clear.

It is for these reasons that my predecessor as Edinburgh Greens culture spokesperson, Chas Booth, fought for the Agent of Change principle to be introduced at Licensing Board last term. Unfortunately, he was over-ruled but it is clear that Agent of Change is what the arts industry needs and I intend to continue what he started and fight for its introduction.

At the other end of the UK, Green MP Caroline Lucas has made the same issue a priority in her Brighton constituency.

And my Green MSP colleague Andy Wightman has also raised it, with the minister, Kevin Stewart acknowledging, “I am attracted by the prospect of embedding the agent of change principle into our planning system so that we can protect the established and emerging talent in our music industry. Our live music venues should not become financially disadvantaged or have their viability threatened as a result of new development in their vicinity.”

Scotland’s capital city needs music venues and it needs to offer residents a good night’s sleep. Agent of Change can deliver both.

Cllr Alex Staniforth is Green culture spokesperson