Hackney Council's new licensing policy has been a cause for much concern in the dance music community and beyond since the vote passed on Wednesday last week, with fears the borough's vibrant nighttime economy is under threat.
We spoke to Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville to talk us through the policy and how it will impact Hackney. Read the Q+A below.
Last week Hackney Council unanimously approved a new licensing policy, what positive effects do you hope to bring to Hackney with this?
For us, the licensing policy is a culmination of two years work, which has involved a lot of engagement with business, consultation, evidence gathering, and it is aimed to strike the right balance between a really flourishing and diverse nighttime economy around bars, venues and clubs with the fact Hackney is a very small borough with residential populations in and around our town centres.
I'm someone that passionately believes in what the nighttime economy has brought to Hackney, but I also know that there are counter voices and we as a council need to balance those two things off. The policy is aimed at making sure that nighttime economy continues to flourish, but we've got the tools where there's a saturation of venues in certain parts of the borough or where venues are badly run to be able to take action.
What has informed the decision making process, what information have you gathered? You referenced a saturation of venues, how have you defined this term?
There's a whole packet of evidence from police call outs, ambulance call outs, where licensed premises are located, the hours of operation, where anti-social behaviour takes places, the impact of cleansing and noise complaints. We create a heat map of where those areas of the nighttime economy are and obviously they're predominantly located in Shoreditch and Dalston within Hackney. We first introduced what is called a Special Policy Area (SPA) in 2005 in Shoreditch, then in 2014 in Dalston. That just sets the parameters that if a new venue wants to open in that area they've got to think about what the impact of that new venue will be on the area and local residents, and on the council. It doesn't say that that venue can't open, but there's a burden shift to the venue to talk about how they will make a positive impact on the area rather than us proving the counter to that.
You already have the power to reject license proposals, so why include the new curfew in the policy unless you are planning to widely implement that as standard across the borough?
It isn't a curfew, and it's about setting out what licenses can expect to get as a matter of course. The 'core hours' set out the 11pm close. If you want to go beyond that, you have to prove that you won't have that wider impact, rather than us saying to licensed premises that we are going to assume all of them are going to have a negative impact. We don't want to do that. We want to have a positive relationship with new applicants so it just sets out the parameters for people coming forward to apply.
What negative impacts are you exactly referring to and how might an applicant demonstrate responsibility to curb them?
Every venue will be treated on its own merit, every location will be treated on its merits. But if it's in a more residential area you'd look at how they would control noise, look at outside activity, think about managing the venues when it closes, security and safety - those sorts of issues. They're standard things that a licensee has to go through, but obviously if you have, say, a cluster of very late-night venues all in one place they're going to have that cumulative impact. So in a SPA that's what we look at.
It's not about being draconian and saying those sorts of things can't happen, it's just how the licensed premises would manage that. I don't like just looking at things in terms of door staff and blunt instruments like that, but obviously that can play a role. I know fantastically independent cocktail venues that are really small and wouldn't want the burden of door staff, so we work with them to make sure they're safe and well-run venues that can flourish in that type of environment. There's going to be a whole range of things, depending on whether it's a large clubbing type venue, a hybrid with food, cocktail venue, bar, pub, all those sorts of things.
The cost benefit analysis report for the policy noted the anti-social problems and clean-up costs linked to alcohol, saying “it makes sense to promote those aspects of the [nighttime economy] that generate fewer costs in relation to the benefits”, labelling “entertainment and food as ‘safer bets’.” There are problems that can arise from late-night venues with alcohol licenses, but they have a place, and it ignores the cultural value they also bring. Hackney venues Plastic People, Dance Tunnel and recently Total Refreshment Centre have all shut since the Dalston Special Policy Area came into effect in 2014, and now an increased SPA is here. There's a lot of concern that venues of this ilk that incubate creativity and help make London exciting are going to struggle in light of the new policy.
I would say none of those venues have closed because of the Special Policy Area.
Dance Tunnel explicitly said the "licensing climate" in Hackney is why it closed.
I would dispute that. And something like the Total Refreshment Centre didn't have a license, that’s the reason they had the enforcement action taken against them. So now we're working through that process to work with them so they come forward and have a license and can operate in the way they want as a venue. You can't have premises that don't have licensing selling alcohol, that's the premise of the whole system, and that's what they didn't have when the enforcement action was taken.
We're working very hard with venues to make sure they can stay in the borough and flourish. We've protected pubs, we've protected cultural venues that are in our buildings, so things like Village Underground, giving them a long lease. Encouraging those sorts of venues to expand and open in Dalston, standing up for places like The Joiner's Arms that have real cultural significance even though it was just outside the borough. This isn't about turning places like Dalston and Shoreditch into sit-down restaurants as you've seen in Westminster and other places, this is about saying you can have a very mixed nighttime economy and looking at different types of venue. I'm really committed to music and public venues in Hackney and across the board we've seen an increase in the number of venues, whether it be real ale pubs, cultural venues, live music venues and all the things that keep Hackney's dynamic economy.
The report stating “entertainment and food as ‘safer bets’” does seem to ignore a sense of cultural value in favour of economic value for potential new venues.
I think it's about a mix. If you've got real centres like Dalston and Shoreditch that are centres of fantastic, diverse nightlife, we want to see that continue. But it can't continue to grow without some sense of the impact on the wider community and how we manage that. If you want to open a new venue like that, you may well be able to do that, but you've got to convince us it's not going to add to the negative impact of the nighttime economy. It's recognising the importance of the nighttime economy.
I was out there campaigning for places like Passing Clouds and saying they had a vital role and making sure that couldn't be turned into sterile offices, and we put an asset of community value in place to say it had to be returned to a music venue. So we do protect music venues with campaigning and planning powers and thinking about how those things can operate. I don't think it's a one-way street saying those sorts of venues have no place, it's about they're managed, how they work with the council and how they work with that wider community.
By making it harder to obtain licenses and placing a lot more responsibility on the venues, will this mean that young people with exciting and innovative ideas for nightlife will be unlikely to have the resources to meet the licensing demands, and chains with deep pockets and good lawyers will?
We have got a track record of supporting independent businesses here in Hackney, we've got a business development team that would happily work with people that want to set up independent venues. One of the responses to some of the challenges we've had around this policy is how can we enhance that and how can we create some peer support amongst independent owners so they don't have to think that it's about lawyering up to get licenses.
I don't think the pattern of new premises opening up in Shoreditch and Dalston bears out that it is about new big players coming into Hackney. If you look at what's happened to chains in Hackney over the last 13 years, they do not flourish here. It's not what people going out want to see, it's not what their expectations of our town centres and Hackney is. It's about people that are authentic and genuinely interested in creating exciting venues. They're the ones that thrive, they're well-run and we have a good relationship through PubWatch and the Late Night Levy forums with those businesses and we try and support them. It isn't about just creating a type of environment where only those with the deepest pockets can succeed.
You say the policy doesn’t affect existing licenses, but how about when they come up for renewal? Will they continue to be protected against the new regulations or will the regulations be used to reduce existing licenses?
I don't want to see the regulations used to reduce existing licensing. It's about new venues that are coming forward, so it isn't about resetting to 11 or 12, I think we've been very clear about that.
You said the Night Czar was consulted throughout the planning process, what views did she express?
She's always been a critical friend of councils in terms of their licensing policy and she's very keen to see that Hackney stays the independent and flourishing borough that it is. I suppose as with the campaign itself we've been seeking to reassure her and people concerned about the nighttime economy that what we're doing isn't about creating an environment where we lose that fantastic strength around independent venues.
She has requested an urgent meeting with you following the vote, will you be taking this meeting?
We met with her this afternoon, so we've had the first meeting and agreed to meet again at the end of the summer and talk about how we continue to work together to reassure businesses and those that use the venues that we're continuing to support the nighttime economy in Hackney. The type of nighttime economy I'm sure many of your readers and people who have been contacting the Night Czar want to see us continue to support.
What was the outcome of the meeting today?
We've committed to continuing to engage, listen. Both myself and Councillor Selman are going to be meeting with some of the business representatives over the course of the next couple of days and weeks. We've committed to reviewing the impact of the policy in a year's time to make sure, as part of all the things we do in support of the nighttime economy, that we look at the impact of these licensing changes and making sure that she and all those that care about the nighttime economy are involved in those discussions.
Prior to vote you ran some public consultations. One found that 73 per cent were against the new policy, and in another 84 per cent said they consider the curfew proposals to be ineffective at promoting the licensing objectives. How do you justify moving ahead with the plans in light of the findings of these public consultations?
I suppose I'd be very, absolutely, categorically clear this is not a curfew. It is a new licensing policy, not a curfew or blanket ban.
It includes an 11pm weekday and midnight on weekends standard closing time.
"Core hours", but no licensed venue that is well operated will be forced to close at 11pm, and no new applicant will have to just stick with those core hours if they can show they're a well-run venue and have an idea how to mitigate the impact that might come from a late-night venue.
There's two sides to this. People are campaigning thinking it's a blanket ban and curfew, both through the consultation and now, and that is simply not true. And, that consultation was only one part of the evidence package around taking the decision. It was not a referendum or vote, it was part of a broader engagement. We met individually with licensees, we met with PubWatches, we met with resident groups, we did the online, paper and statutory consultation. Then we also had the body of evidence about the impact of the nighttime economy, good and bad. All of that comes together as a package that we look at when we make that decision.
Also, the 73 and 84 per cent that you quote isn't a percentage of total residents, it's of people that took part in the consultation.
You used public money to run the consultations so isn't it on you to ensure the consultations are representative of the public?
We did. We had a really big engagement with local residents making sure they were taken into account, and they were taken into account and balanced against all the other challenges. I come back to: it's not a curfew and not a ban. So if you respond to consultations saying I don't want a curfew and ban, and that is not what we're introducing, then that is going to be a point of discussion and debate. The core hours are a base of application. If you are a well-run venue going up to 11pm the presumption is you are likely to get those hours. If you want to go beyond that, it is a higher degree of scrutiny, but it doesn't say you won't get them.
Having standardised closing hours suggests they will be the most common timings allowed.
We're not planning to do that. We want a flourishing nighttime economy that's diverse, independent, well-run and has the support of our residents. The core hours allow us to have extra scrutiny if you're opening later into the evening. It's just overlaying it with a degree of additional scrutiny and that allows us to have those discussions with new licensed premises about what impact they might have on the broader neighbourhood. There are residents that say we've not gone far enough, that the Shoreditch SPA zone isn't wide enough and that we haven't listened to them. It's all about striking a balance between those that live in those neighbourhoods and those that want to open businesses and come and go out in those neighbourhoods. It is about a balance. It's not about saying we're going to take a nimby view on nighttime venues, and neither is it about saying we're just going to allow growth to not be shaped by public policy.
Are you expecting to grant many post-core hours licenses?
We've had a SPA in Shoreditch since 2005 and Dalston since 2014, and we've seen 205 new venues open across those neighbourhoods. I would expect to see new venues open with late-night hours as long as they're well-run.
What types of venues are you looking for? Obviously late-night venues with alcohol licenses are more susceptible to resulting in anti-social problems, but they still have a place in the city.
It's not about making things sterile, it's making things well-run. So it is about having an environment that is good for those going out, good for local residents and good for businesses. Our role is to manage that nighttime economy. It's not saying it has to be sterile and corporate, which is what people who are campaigning are saying we're seeking to do. I want it to be independent, radical, diverse. I want it to cross the different communities that are represented in Hackney, and be queer and LGBT as well. All those things are really important to us. It's not about saying it's chain venues or food, or not about live music and DJs. It's about all of those things. It's just saying that if you're opening that late you've got to think about what is the impact when you're venue closes, how is your venue managed, how are you ensuring people in it are safe, how you're managing any outside spaces that you have with that.
Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Staff Writer, follow him on Twitter