In new regulations unveiled yesterday, the government has announced that it will be implementing rules around planning permission surrounding the demolition of music venues. Local councils will now have to take into account the temporary impact that the coronavirus has had on music venues before granting permission for redevelopment, demolition, or change of use. The policy is expected to remain in place for the remainder of the year.
The Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick (who has recently been dogged by accusations of corruption in granting planning permission to personal friends without council approval) referred to Britain’s cultural institutions the “envy of the world”, and that it was therefore “vital they are properly protected by the planning system for both people today to enjoy and future generations”. Jenrick was repeating a sentiment put forward by his fellow cabinet members following the government’s plans to inject £1.57 billion of investment into the ailing arts industries; the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak similarly called Britain’s galleries, museums, heritage sites, music venues and independent cinemas “world-renowned”.
Adding his approval, the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden also named the creative industries “world-beating”, despite later conceding that the primary aim of the package was to preserve Britain’s cultural “crown jewels”. The government’s supportive rhetoric however, does not match the lack of intervention on behalf of the arts sector over the course of the pandemic, nor their confused message with regard to the protection of the UK’s music venues.
We are pleased to confirm that Grassroots Music Venues will not be included in amendments to the planning law under the proposed ‘Project Speed’. Thanks to @KevinBrennanMP for asking the question and @DCMS for the very clear answer. pic.twitter.com/OSi124K3TD
— Music Venue Trust (@musicvenuetrust) July 7, 2020
On the 30th of June, the Prime Minister established an Infrastructure Delivery Taskforce (dubbed “Project Speed”) that aimed to “to cut down the time it takes to develop, design and deliver vital infrastructure projects”. The Music Venue Trust condemned the project as a “replica” of the widely-criticised Permitted Development Rights, a scheme by which developers closed hundreds of venues before eventually being reversed in 2018, asking for “urgent clarification”. The government then responded to confirm that music venues would be an exception from the development plans, with the Minister of State for Health Caroline Dinenage reassuring the Trust that the “significant challenges” grassroots music venues were undergoing were being recognised.
Despite the praise heaped on by various members of the cabinet, appeals from arts organisations for government intervention had been ignored for several months, until the instigation of the #LetTheMusicPlay campaign. Days after more than 1,500 high-profile artists signed an open letter in support, plans for the £1.57 billion investment were announced. With live events limited to either open air arrangements or not at all, hundreds of independent theatre and music venues across the country were previously under imminent threat of closure. Read the full letter here.