London, the beloved capital of the United Kingdom, has already seen an estimated 200 live music venues close their doors since 2007 due to a variety of reasons. The majority claim it’s down to three issues. Financial problems, property development and noise complaints.
Whilst these can all potentially be completely legitimate and valid reasons for any popular entertainment spot to become the victim of an uncertain future, it seems to be a very convenient coincidence that these issues all seem to appear hand in hand.
The most recent case involving, The Fleece - a prominent live music venue located in, Bristol, UK for over three decades - has faced an ongoing battle for the last 4 years due to an office complex being converted into a new block of 80 privately owned apartments called, The Milliners. The venue saw a 2014 petition gather over 40 thousand signatures opposing the new development for fear of noise complaints forcing the venue to close.
The issue is far more complex than a few simple noise complaints though, what exactly is at stake here?
The building in question stands at 33 - 49 Victoria Street which has served as an office complex since the 1970’s and is located directly opposite the venue. The owners of the building - Savills plc, one of the world's largest real estate firms - have had to submit numerous reports to the local council in order to be granted permission to construct the new apartments.
These include noise assessment reports to gauge whether surrounding environments, including any business, will present any conflicting interest with the new build or its future residence. The reports also advise Savills of many design and material changes they must implement in order to comply with the necessary planning permission due to noise levels of the, at the time, proposed apartments as a direct result of being opposite a live music venue.
This can prove to be very costly and time-consuming. When you have an empty building generating a debt, it’s not great for business. However, this is not the most interesting thing we found whilst investigating this issue.
You can view all related planning application documents submitted to the council here. Many of which extensively detail The Fleece as being the primary “problem” in relation to this development.
The Dirty Deed
It turns out that in July of this year, Savills plc advised Aprirose to acquire 73 new properties to add to its vast portfolio, these new properties are owned by Mitchells And Butlers. Guess who owns The Fleece? Yes, Mitchells And Butlers. And guess who Aprirose appoint to help them sell property, yes, Savills.
Savills also conveniently advised Mitchells And Butlers to sell their property to Aprirose. Handy!
Whilst Aprirose acquired the 73 locations and converted these into Milton & Tavern pubs, it’s clear how much influence property developers such as Savills hold in this market.
Mitchells & Butlers are not to blame here, they are a business afterall and there’s nothing wrong with selling some of your franchises, companies do this all the time. However, this isn’t great news for smaller venues that may struggle to turn a handsome profit in the eyes of their owners.
Interesting that shortly after Savills/Aprirose plc acquire a new portfolio of Mitchells And Butlers owned properties, one of them starts to face the threat of closure. No doubt if we did some more digging, this may be the case for many newly acquired Savills properties. After all, this multi-million dollar asset management company don’t care if a business goes under, they still own the property and can then do as they please with the building, like redevelop it into apartments.
The Fleece has also experienced a 404 percent increase in their business rates since 2010 from £17,800 to £72,000 as of 2017, in comparison, other venues within the city have only seen an average increase of around 9 percent. What’s also very intriguing is the fact that Savills plc were actually granted permission to convert The Milliners into a residential property in 2009.
What better way to convert a newly acquired property into nice new apartment blocks surrounded by noise than to get rid of the noise, by forcing venues to shut down. How do you force them to shut down? Make it impossible for occupants to meet their financial obligations?
Whilst there is no evidence to suggest the local council are being influenced in any way to impose such an extortionate increase on The Fleece, it certainly begs the question - Will the council make more money from a live music venue or a dozen apartment blocks?
Wouldn’t it be easier to just let the lease run out on a venue and not offer the occupants a renewal, therefore gaining back full ownership? Well, it would be but Mitchells And Butlers assigned a 25 year lease to the owner of The Fleece which isn’t due to expire until 2035.
Property developers and contractors such as Savills plc know they can have venues shut down through noise complaints. Disturbingly, a noise abatement notice can even be issued before any noise has even taken place.
“Councils must investigate complaints about issues that could be a ‘statutory nuisance’ (a nuisance covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990).
If they agree that a statutory nuisance is happening, has happened or will happen in the future, councils must serve an abatement notice (usually on the person responsible).”
However, money is the main motivator for having live music venues shut down. It is not a coincidence that many live music venues are facing financial difficulty, redevelopment and noise complaints all at the same time.
Why bother making a few thousand pounds in rent a month from a music venue, when you can turn it into a block of apartments and sell each one for upwards of £200K?
This is happening to venues all over the Country including Clwb Ifor Bach and The Barfly in Cardiff, Sound Control in Manchester, Studio 24 in Edinburgh, The Astoria, 12 Bar and Intrepid Fox in London to name but a few. Some of which have been closed for a long time.
Unfortunately, a venue such as The Fleece, along with many others, simply cannot compete with a global investment, asset management and property development company worth £1.4 billion. A petition will not stop this corporate conglomerate of greed and hostile takeover.
The only way you can change this is to start writing to your local MP, NOW!
Not to mention the fact that if you move into an apartment next to a live music venue and complain about noise, you are an utter dick.