Scotland's live music venues win protection against property developers
New guidance has been issued to local authorities by the Scottish Government to ensure greater protection for existing businesses when neighbouring sites are snapped up.
Ministers had been under growing pressure to act over planning rules which meant the onus was on the operators of a venue to ensure nearby neighbours are not disturbed even if the venue has been running for years.
Demands increased last month when it emerged the UK Government had agreed to adopt the ‘Agent of Change’ principle, saying long-standing regulations put an “unfair burden” on the operators of live music venues.
The Scottish Government said the new guidance recognised “the cultural and economic contribution of Scotland’s music industry, as well as the importance of live music to the vibrancy of our town centres and to our night-time economy.”
However the operators of new venues will be responsible for ensuring appropriate soundproofing is in place.
Campaigners in Scotland have been warning of growing problems within the industry in recent years due to venues having to impose their own noise restrictions or shut down altogether.
A string of venues in Edinburgh, including Studio 24 and The Venue, have been forced to close due to the impact of new developments and noise complaints to the local authority.
King Tut’s Wah Wah in Glasgow City Centre is among the venue in Glasgow which have come under growing threat from new developments.
Promoters DF Concerts, the owners of King Tut's, where Oasis were famously discovered, joined forces with other Glasgow venues like SWG3, the O2ABC and the Sub Club to ensure venues across Scotland had the same level of protection as those in England.
Housing minister Kevin Stewart said chief planner, John McNairney, had written to every local authority in the country to ask them to “act now” on the new guidelines.
Mr Stewart added: “The Scottish Government recognises the significant cultural and economic contribution of our music industry.
“It is only right we do what we can to protect the established and emerging musical talent and that is why we are embedding the ‘Agent of Change’ principle in our planning guidance.
“Music venues should not have to make high cost changes or deal with expensive disputes because of new developments. Developers will be responsible for identifying and solving any potential issues with noise, giving residents of new homes a better quality of life and allowing our music venues to continue to operate.”
Mr McNairney's letter to local authorities states: "Complaints about noise nuisance can place particular pressure on our music venues, potentially leading to additional costs for them to remedy negative impacts, or to cease certain operations such as live music, or to endanger the viability of the business altogether.
"Sometimes these complaints can be generated as a result of new development being carried out in the vicinity of existing music venues.
"The Agent of Change principle clearly places the responsibility for mitigating any detrimental impact of noise on neighbours with those carrying out the new development or operations.
"So for example, where a new residential property is to be developed within the vicinity of an existing music venue, the responsibility for mitigating adverse effects should sit with the housing developer, as the ‘agent of change’.
"Conversely, if a new music venue is proposed, or an existing venue is to be extended, that responsibility would be with the venue operator."
Geoff Ellis, chief executive of DF Concerts, said: "Today’s news that the Agent of Change principle will be adopted into Scottish Planning policy is a huge step in protecting Scotland’s live music scene.
"It removes a crippling threat that loomed over our music venues for too long."
SWG3 founder Andrew Fleming Brown said: "SWG3 and venues across Scotland provide essential facilities and support for the arts and music community as well as a platform for cultural education and development.
"We look forward to the strengthening of relationships between venues, communities and local authorities that this change will bring.”
Beverley Whitrick, strategic director of the Music Venue Trust, which has led the campaign for change across the UK, said: “Ministers have listened to the case and taken on board the fact that grassroots music venues need protection and recognition for their contribution to our towns and cities.
“This is an important issue and will certainly help venues, but it is not the only challenge they face.
“We look forward to working further with Scottish Government to ensure the long-term sustainability of venues across Scotland.”
Michael Dugher, chief executive of UK Music, the industry body, said: "This is a landmark victory for all those who fought so hard to safeguard the future of music venues in Scotland and across the UK - from grassroots community activists to global music stars who have spent years calling for Agent of Change.
“We are delighted the Scottish Government has thrown its support behind our 'Agent of Change' plan and is toughening the rules to protect grassroots music venues. It’s a tremendous boost for the live music industry.
“Music tourism makes a huge contribution to Scotland, bringing enjoyment to millions and generating Â£334 million to the local economy. Supporting grassroots venues is key to maintaining the Scotland's vibrant and diverse music scene, as well as making sure we have the talent pipeline to maintain the our position as a global force in music."
Caroline Sewell, regional organiser for the Musicians' Union in Scotland, said: “After campaigning tirelessly with colleagues from the Musicians’ Union and elsewhere across the country, and seeing the Agent of Change principle come into force in English and Welsh planning law, we are delighted that Scotland is now following suit.
“This a real victory for the live music sector in what are already precarious times.
"It is also a victory for the musicians who rely on these venues to develop their craft and audiences and for the venues themselves, who play such a crucial role in our communities and the fabric of our live music ecosystem."