Speeches : Scottish Parliament

 

Speech

 

Glasgow (Music Tourism)

20 June 2018

I, too, congratulate Adam Tomkins on securing this debate at what is a critically important time for music venues in Glasgow and across the country.

As we have heard, the headline story is the devastation of the O2 ABC in the same conflagration last weekend that hit the Glasgow School of Art.

However, the bigger picture is the loss of venue after venue across our country as a result of inadequate legal protection against the effects of inappropriate development.

Every live music venue knows that, as things stand, it is only one persistent complainer away from being forced to close or to spend prohibitive amounts of money on soundproofing technology.

Studio 24 in Edinburgh and Downstairs in Aberdeen have already gone, and now King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, as Pauline McNeill said, is under threat.

I was at King Tut’s last week, not on that occasion at a gig, but at the first Scottish venues meeting organised by the Music Venue Trust.

I met representatives of venues all over Scotland, including Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh and Krakatoa and the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen, as well as the operators of King Tut’s.

Our conversations were about the threats that they face and the opportunity that we have to change the law in their favour.

One of the most immediate threats is to King Tut’s, because Glasgow City Council has just granted planning permission for a private residence to be built next door.

The terms of that approval—a public document—are disappointing, and they appear to confirm the fear that the Scottish Government’s acceptance of the principle of agent of change does not, in itself, go far enough.

According to the letter that was issued to planning authorities in February by the chief planner on behalf of the Scottish Government,

“where a new residential property is to be developed within the vicinity of an existing music venue, the responsibility for mitigating adverse effects should sit with the housing developer, as the ‘agent of change’.”

That is pretty clear, but what Glasgow City Council’s approval of that housing development application in May says, by contrast, is that

“it should be noted that the nearby licensed concert venue has a duty and obligation to control and manage noise within the premises, and any noise escape, and ensure their premises is suitably sound attenuated.”

In other words, for that planning authority, the chief planner’s letter, which introduced the principle of agent of change to planning practice in Scotland for the first time, has not been applied.

That letter directed planning authorities to

“ensure issues around the potential impact of noise from live music venues are always appropriately assessed and addressed when considering proposals either by venues themselves or for development in their vicinity, and that decisions reflect the Agent of Change principle.”

Clearly, that has not happened in this case, and Glasgow City Council will not be the only authority that has yet to change its approach to such issues in line with the new ministerial guidance.

The problem is that, although the new guidance is welcome, it is only guidance.

Until the agent of change principle is enshrined in law, venues such as King Tut’s in Glasgow and others across the country will remain under threat.

That is why the Local Government and Communities Committee recognised, in its stage 1 report on the Planning (Scotland) Bill, that a principle that is not enshrined in statute will always be open to interpretation and challenge, in circumstances in which councils have been used to giving developers the benefit of the doubt.

If we are to secure the shared objectives that are shared by ministers, by the Local Government and Communities Committee and, I suspect, by the great majority of members of the Parliament, as well as by the music industry and music venues, we need to go beyond guidance and enshrine the agent of change principle in planning law.

In that way, we can protect all our live music venues in Glasgow and across Scotland.