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The Noise Issue - An Update

Written By Andy Gunton

In our last issue we featured the current problems with live music venues and noise regulations, both locally and nationally. We thought we’d update you on recent developments.

Firstly Hastings’ own The Union Bar had a good licence review, which means they are able to continue providing live, original music. That is certainly very good news for local music fans.
Secondly, The Fleece a music venue in Bristol, got a reprieve of its own when forward thinking local councillors voted that new flats to be built near the venue must be fitted with noise insulation measures.

The ruling in Bristol may well set some sort of precedent, as it was seen as a test case.
You can read more about this case here

We also printed a National Petition on behalf of the Music Venue Trust. Their campaign is still ongoing, but they have received a reply from DEFRA, a Government department.

The Music Venue Trust have now written an open letter, in reply, outlining 3 specific things they think need to change to help protect live music venues.

With their permission, we are printing those 3 demands here.

1 -  Cut Red Tape.

You highlight that the laws around noise nuisance are complex, overlapping, and arise from multiple laws, legislation and precedents dating back as far as the 1800s. 

You say you are opposed to red tape, so we invite you to cut it. Because it's quite clear that nobody involved understands it and law that is open to significant interpretation to meet one aim or another is not good law.

People are writing to us saying all noise, however loud, is permitted until 11pm. Others say no noise is permissible at any time.

Work across departments to create one, clear, unequivocal and easily understood document that relates to noise emanating from live performances, sports, and community activity.

2 - Establish National Criteria, Guidelines and Advice for Environmental Health Officers.

A lot of the DEFRA response depends upon local interpretation of unclear national legislation, placing an unreasonable demand on local EHOs.

We believe in local negotiations, but your response creates "Schrödinger Venues" - great music venues who might or might not be making a noise, we won't find out until someone decides they don't like it. We need to stop considering the question "does a small venue make a noise, if there is no-one around to hear it?" and answer the question "what is the appropriate level of noise in this zone?".

The decision in Bristol is fantastic and shows how venues can work with their local councils and EHOs to get good development, but it's not a legal precedent and we shouldn't be leaving these things to chance.

You say you want to see well-managed, thriving live music spaces. How can any business make provision for, or try to act within, a completely unknown quantity? Is 35dB at 20 metres too much or isn't it? What about 40dB, or 60dB? And what about 2 metres, or 200 metres?

Your response specifically conflates music with noise and noise with nuisance. We say live music and noise coming from other community activities is not a nuisance, it is the heart and soul of local communities.

Create a proper national framework for noise emanating from live performances, sports, and community activity that can be referenced by EHO’s and establish a good practice guide.

3 - Adopt the Agent of Change Principle.

The DEFRA response states, that it is a long established principle of UK law that it does not matter if someone moves next to a noise, the noise maker still has the responsibility to adapt the noise to suit whatever new conditions the new occupier feels they want. We say this is against common sense. If I move to a fishing village, can I stop the fishing because I don't like the smell? If I move next to a football ground, can I stop the games because I don't like the cheering?

The response references precedents in UK law dating back 200 years. We've come quite a long way in the last 200 years, and there's a few more of us living right next to each other.

There is a principle you can adopt called Agent of Change; this states that responsibility to adapt the conditions of the noise falls on the person who changes the existing conditions. It's been adopted in various guises in Australia, affecting planning, development and noise complaints positively across the board.

The principle is simple: If a venue increases its noise, it should make changes to adapt it. If a developer wants to build next to a music venue, they must build to adapt to the noise. If a new occupier moves into a zone where there is an accepted level of noise, they should make changes to adapt it.

If DEFRA don't adopt the Agent of Change principle, every venue, sports ground, cinema, restaurant, theatre, church, and community space in the country faces bills running into thousands of pounds trying to fight developments, or meet an ever evolving demand from new occupiers to modify and adapt their noise.

Venues will close without an Agent of Change principle.

Please follow this link: qr.net/sign and add your voice to this important campaign. If we don’t act, we may lose some much valued live music venues.

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