The adoption of new national planning rules have been hailed as great news for Bristol’s music venues and affordable housing in the city.
Campaigners called for the Agent of Change principle to be introduced in the wake of threats from developments and rising rents that put the futures of grassroots venues, including the Fiddlers, The Fleece and Thekla, in jeopardy.
Although too late for some – with 35 per cent of venues, including the Surrey Vaults, forced to close their doors in the last decade – its adoption into the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) last week will work to safeguard venues from the threat posed by development.
The Agent of Change principle puts the onus on the party that’s initiating change – whether it be developer or venue – to mitigate against any impact on existing buildings in the area, such as that from noise complaints.
UK Music CEO Michael Dugher called its adoption into planning law a pivotal moment in the fight to protect under threat music venues, saying: “This has been a long fought battle and it is vital that local authorities back it to save live music.”
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees has already committed to supporting the new rules.
Music venue owners and managers have welcomed the news that as of July 24, they are enshrined in national law.
Daniel Cleary of Fiddlers Bristol said: “It’s great news that the Agent of Change principle has come into play for music venues – sadly it’s too late for some venues, but it will now protect venues from future planning applications that may have previously put the venue at risk.”
Patrick Somers of the Thekla added: “Venues like Thekla add so much value to cities like Bristol and our cultural scene is one of the reasons so many people want to live here.
“Agent of Change is a significant step in the right direction, but we still need to ensure we work together to protect our much loved venues from threats coming from rent increases and licensing restrictions, as well as noise complaints.”
Music-loving MPs Kerry McCarthy and Thangam Debbonaire both sponsored the bill that has now been adopted by Parliament.
Debbonaire, the MP for Bristol West, said: “Bristol is well known for music and nightlife. Ironically, this exciting creative scene is one factor increasing demand for housing in the city, putting music venues under pressure.
“We are all proud of Bristol as the home of the likes of Massive Attack, Portishead and Roni Size, but without these small venues, we can’t nurture the bands of the future.”
The Government has also agreed to close a current ‘viability loophole’ that has allowed developers to avoid building any affordable homes on the ground that they wouldn’t make enough profit.
Previously, anything under 20 per cent would be deemed not enough – which has allowed developers to overbid for land, in the knowledge they could still make a profit by reducing the affordable homes provided.
McCarthy, the MP for Bristol East said: “At a time of a housing crisis where there is great need for housing at prices people can afford, it is outrageous that loopholes exist which allow developers to avoid building affordable homes.”
Housing charity Shelter has welcomed the move to make the planning system more transparent and harder for developers to shirk responsibilities when it comes to providing affordable homes, but warned that the new guidelines are “murky” when it comes to just how affordable housing policies will be decided by councils.
Bristol City Council’s requirement is 40 per cent affordable homes, although a vast number of developments in the city fall well short of this target.
Main photo by Mike Evans (on board the Thekla)
Read more: The future of Bristol’s live music scene