“You can move to a nuisance”
Those words chilled me at the time I heard them in 2009 as they were from a senior officer in BCC’s Environmental Health Department. They were used by one of the panel members representing Environmental Health, Licensing, and Planning Departments at an informal discussion at the Town Hall, kindly hosted by them, to share views and questions between the departments and landlords, venue managers and other interested parties re recent issues around live music venues and complaints from new residents to the area around those already existing venues.
The same gentlemen referred to the “Human right to a good night’s sleep” I’ve not checked but I was convinced that he was convinced that this was in the European statute of human rights.
So his and the department’s position, revealed clearly that evening is that if a complaining resident’s sleep was disturbed after 11pm even if they knew it would be when they moved to the property then “Environmental health officers who are qualified and trained to assess whether a noise is likely to be a statutory nuisance would be legally obliged to take legal action to stop the statutory nuisance”.
This meeting was held following the closure of the wonderful Fiddle and Bone, the threat to The Nightingale, the restrictions placed on The Spotted Dog and major difficulties for The Rainbow amongst others. During the meeting I concluded that the only way to preserve important music venues was to try to ensure that there was no inappropriate building of new residences near to them and that this had to be done at the planning stage.
Oddly I’d watched fascinated as the planning department refused permission for a new apartment build in Digbeth in 2008 on fears that “Residents would find the noise of gunfire and explosions from the neighbouring Gun Barrel Proofing House unbearable”. I knew that area well and had never heard a dicky bird from the Gun Barrel Proofing House myself but this showed the planning department had grasped the concept of not allowing development near to an important resource where new residents complaints might threaten the resource.
When a planning application was recently submitted for a new apartment build immediately adjacent to the cultural treasure that is The Hare and Hounds in King’s Heath I was concerned but it seemed such a ridiculous proposition that I didn’t over worry. A 3,000 signature petition delivered to the planning department, 100’s of comments directly to the planning department and the objection of current residents of the area to the proposal further assured me that the application would be rejected and rightly on Dec 20th it was, by the democratically elected councillors who are members of the planning committee.
Then at the next meeting of the planning committee on January 24th according to the Birmingham Mail The council’s chief planning officer, Richard Goulborn, told the committee: “We do not believe that approval of this apartment will jeopardise the operation of the Hare and Hounds.” as he overthrew the elected and representative councillor’s views.
I have spent this weekend angry, as have many others in Kings Heath, Moseley and across the City. Older ones amongst us have seen the cynicism of the developers who led to the demise of the Fiddle and Bone, they even hired the venue to show off their new apartments from across the canal to potential purchasers who then, when in residence complained and had the venue shut down.
Younger ones amongst us find yet another reason to be cynical of local government and it’s processes.
I’m angry that the planning department once again are showing no sign at all of recognising the importance of culture in the lives of our citizens and I’ve been devastated that despite this Council’s, I’m sure heartfelt commitment to transparency, accountability and increased local decision making we can end up with local wishes utterly ignored, over one apartment! Worth maybe £25k’s profit to the developer! We are putting one of the city’s cultural jewels at risk for that!
Remember the spokesman from Environmental Health’s comment Mr Goulborn? “You can move to a nuisance” “Our officers would be legally obliged…” That’s the threat from this approval to the Hare and Hounds.
I’ve lived through times in the 70’s and 80’s when this city’s informal music culture was strangled by a licensing committee that was as bent as a nine bob note. They were unique in the country, it took an act of parliament to disband the self generating, mainly slime balls, helped by a chairman of said committee going to jail for fraud.
I really did not think that by 2013 the biggest threat, other than the economy to the City’s music infrastructure was going to come from our very own planning department who seem to see the gun trade deserving one set of rules and live music another.
I know the application is for one apartment, it might be rented or purchased by some lovely, fluffy party animal who loves being there or it might be someone like my neighbours who have to get up for work at 4am in the morning and then we could be in trouble and that’s the unnecessary risk that I am so opposed to.
Councillor Martin Straker Welds, one or the planning committee members replied diligently this morning to my mail to him over the weekend pointing out that there were no legal grounds on which to turn down the application, he offered however to “ask the planning officers to keep a careful watch to ensure that the new construction is enabled to coexist in close proximity with live entertainment”. The problem there is that if a complaint is subsequently made by a new resident it’s not down to planning it’s over to Environmental Health whose officers are empowered……
So what now? There is no appeal, which in itself is one of the most cack-handed bits of legislation that I’ve ever come across, well maybe there is, perhaps an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, the same court that rules that someone has a human right to a good night’s sleep. I suspect that somewhere deep in the small print there might be a clause relating to the Human Right of a community to practice and enjoy it’s culture. I’m off for a read.