Should housing developers have to soundproof against noisy nightlife?
The proposed Agent of Change Bill, which is expected to have its second reading in the House of Commons next month, will require residential developments to manage the noise coming from nearby nightclubs and music venues. This is an important initiative and much needed for two reasons.
Firstly, because 50 per cent of Londons nightclubs have reportedly closed over the last five years and this piece of legislation aims to tackle this loss to nightlife. These venues, from pubs to music venues, play an important role in our community and cultural life, but they have been hit hard by encroaching residential development because the current policy is to fine the venue that creates noise.
Secondly, it seeks to address an imbalance in the current planning system, whereby an existing long-established venue can have its business compromised by a new residential development. The Agent of Change Bill will place the burden for noise attenuation on the incoming developer rather than on the established venue.
The issues facing night-time venues has been described as a perfect storm, with noise complaints from neighbours just one of the factors resulting in closures
However, its still unclear how the initiative will be implemented. What level of noise will be considered too much noise? This will be an important consideration for incoming residents to new developments. It seems the bill will leave them with no recourse if the noise levels are above what they anticipated, as it was their decision to move in close to nightlife.
In that case, will there be a requirement for developers or agents to tell residents about noise volumes or decibels before they buy or rent? It is also uncertain how far developers will have to go to control noise and how much it will cost.
Vibrations from bass music, for example, are difficult to dampen in neighbouring properties. The most effective noise management approaches are generally at source: the placement of speakers and treatment of nearby walls is key.
It is also unclear what impact this may have on the night-time economy. The issues facing night-time venues has been described as a perfect storm, with noise complaints from neighbours just one of the factors resulting in closures.
Other issues cited by venues include increasing rents, business rates or properties being redeveloped for more lucrative uses. The Agent of Change Bill wont prevent developers from maximising the return on their investment through redevelopment of venues to residential or other commercial uses, or from acquiring venues which may impact the value of their development in the future. That is why assigning these venues as Assets of Community Value and identifying them as Strategic Cultural Areas and Quarters is also important.
Research indicates that 21 grassroots music venues are at risk of closure due to a 26 per cent increase in business rates in 2017. Should these venues be supported with public money in the same way as other arts institutions?
Finally, Agent of Change will be implemented for new development only and won't resolve issues with existing properties and how they operate and the noise impact on nearby residents.
It will be interesting to hear whether these uncertainties will be cleared up in the Second Reading, but its clear that, if we want to build new homes and preserve the capitals live music venues, all parties are going to need to work together to find solutions.