A Call For Clear, Definitive And Quantitative Guidelines With Regards To Noise Regulations.
by Jimmy Mulvihill
8th April 2015
Letter to Political candidates and political parties
On Monday 13th April the following letter will be sent out to major and minor political parties that are standing in the general election this year, as well as local councils, local council candidates and other organisations that have an influence in making legislation that affects the music industry. if you support the cause behind this letter, please contact us on our Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/ballystudios, to add your name to the cause, and spread the word of the campaign as far and wide as possible.
Dear Sir Madam
We are writing to you to ask for clarification on your policies regarding the need for transparent, consistent and universal rules and regulations towards noise regulations that affect the music industry. We, the undersigned, all work in the music industry, and it is therefore extremely worrying for us to see so many music venues, rehearsal studios and recording studios being subjected to the unfair, unpredictable and inconsistent judgements on whether they can operate in both the short and long term. Much of this comes down to the fact that at present there are no defined regulations on how much noise businesses can make. Instead we have a self-regulating system where local residents are asked to report any noise disturbance to the council with the council then acting upon such reports. The council’s decision will then be made on a subjective basis, and will come down to whether the neighbour is being disturbed – yet ‘being disturbed’ is a term that is extremely vague at best.
In 2013 the music industry created £3.8billion of economic value for the UK economy. (http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/6251650/value-of-uk-music-industry-grows-to-ps38-billion) generating the tax revenues to pay for public services at a time when they were sorely needed. The music industry provides employment to people from a wide demographic that transcends age, race, gender, education and many other classifications. There have also been numerous studies that suggest that the participation in music by children has numerous benefits, both socially, emotionally and educationally, helping them to build confidence, create social skills and develop their language based learning through a creative and fun activity, all of which happens on an increasingly slim budget. Much of the success of the 2012 Olympics was launched from the success of the opening ceremony which was heavily focused on the great music that Britain has produced. Thus, I hope that we can all agree that the music industry adds so much to both the quality of life, the culture and the economy of the UK that it justifies any investment to safeguard it.
For these great benefits to continue we need there to be consistency and clarity in the law that means that we can continue to trade with stability, predictability and without worrying if we are going to be closed down at a moments notice. And make no mistake, this is happening on an industrial scale in the UK. In recent years alone establishments in London such as The 12 Bar Club, The Bull & Gate, Infinity, Powers Bar, The Luminaire, The Walthamstow Standard,The Peel, The Flowerpot, The Astoria, Madame Jojo’s, Southern K and The Buffalo Bar have closed their doors. There was a time that there was a Barfly Live Music venue in Sheffield, Cardiff, Brighton, Glasgow, Liverpool, York and in West London – all have now creased trading. Leeds’s Duchess of York, Newport’s TJ’s, The Joiners Arms in Southampton, The Freebutt in Brighton, the 200 Club in Newport, Leicester’s Princess Charlotte, Manchester’s Roadhouse and numerous other music venues have also passed by the wayside in recent years. This is not to even consider the numerous rehearsal studios such as Enterprise, Station Studios, Downs Sounds and Backstreet who have been forced to close too. Many other have had to relocate. Just this week, on 30th March, we learn that Audio Underground in Stoke Newington suffers the same fate, albeit on a temporary basis for evaluation.
We understand that there will come a time when businesses outlive their usefulness, but the vast majority of these establishments were thriving right up until the day that they closed. Yet this did not ensure their survival, and much of this is down to them not being able to invest in their business for fear that they will be closed down before they have a chance to earn that investment back. For any industry to prosper, or even to survive, there needs to be a solid foundation to build from, and at present this is what the music industry is lacking.
The drink drive limit, the classification of recreational drugs and the gambling industry are a few examples of when the government sets out clear and precise limits for what people can and cannot do. Whether you agree with them or not you know what the law is, and as long as you stay within those pre-determined limits you are safe from prosecution. But in the music industry we are unable to plan our future due to only having subjective limits. For example, if I ran a rehearsal studios complex near some residential properties and the residents did not complain about hearing a little bit of noise here and there, I would encounter no problems. But if one person complains, then my business is at threat. The studios could emit 85dB of noise and not get one complaint and stay open, or they could have 81dB of noise, get one complaint and be shut down. There is thus no direct correlation between how much noise is created and the chance of being shut down, and that makes no sense.
Effectively everyday citizens are being asked to interpret and decide what noise levels are acceptable and what are not, and the problem with that is that each person will have a different definition for what is acceptable, which means different businesses operate under different restrictions. The councils are therefore delegating the regulation of such an important matter to it’s people. My business could be shut down due to a single noise complaint, but I am unable to predict whether a noise complaint will be made through genuine concern of being disturbed or due to a desire to rid the neighbourhood of a business which one person may deem “unsightly”. I could be shut down through a neighbour being upset at the actions of one customer. Worse, as the opinion of people can change on a whim depending on their mood, it means that even if there are no complaints from people at the moment, we cannot accurately predict whether we are likely to encounter any noise complaints or not in the future. This lack of certainty causes a huge amount of stress for us, energy that could otherwise be put into more productive activities.
If the government were to issue clear and universal regulations in terms of noise pollution, for example “If a business makes over 80dB of noise it must be at least 50 metres from any residential properties,” or “if a business is within 100 metres of residential property it needs an A1 License. If they are within 50 metres they need an A2 license”, with different licenses allowing for different amounts of noises at different times of day, then we could get the tape measure out, buy a noise decibel reader and have a definite answer as to whether we are complying with the law or not. Distance, volume and times of day are all predictable and clear boundaries, and so by using them as a basis for your decisions we would know where we stand. Knowing that we are complying with the law, we can then invest in our businesses, reassure our staff that their jobs are secure in the long term due to knowing we are within the guidelines and not have to worry about whether we will be asked to cease trading at any time. If we do not comply with them we can either work to improve our standards, or accept that the business is not viable and make alternative plans. Wither way, at least we would know where we stand
As the council acts upon complaints from local residents and uses this as a basis for whether to take action, and as local residents are not always predictable, it puts us in a position where we never know if we are going to encounter problems. As such any investment made into the business could be risky since we never know how long we have to earn it back, and this stunts the growth of numerous businesses within the industry, with the cumulative effect being that the whole industry is restricted. It also creates a huge amount of stress for us. One day we can trade with support from the government while emitting a certain level of noise. Then, the very next day with the volume of noise remaining consistent, we could get one complaint and have to cease trading. How is it fair that we could have such contrasting scenarios of being supported by the government one day and told to close down the next when the conditions that the business has been run under have been consistent? If there were guidelines issued and they were very strict no doubt many would grumble, but at least they would have a clear idea of what they could do. At present that is what we have to work under.
Many live music venues and rehearsal studios are closing down due to being converted into gastro pubs and high end luxury flats, and while that is sad for us it is at least understandable. That is just the way that business is – if an investor feels that they can make more money by taking such a route then that is their choice. However, in many cases that route is only taken simply as any investor will know that the current laws around sound regulations in the UK are so vague that they shy away from investing in the music industry not through personal or business reasons, but simply as there is too much ambiguity to feel secure with making any investment. (In fact I made the exact same decision myself, as is explained in part two of “The Death Of The London Music Scene”, attached below) If there were clear guidelines as to what people could or could not do at least these venues could re-locate elsewhere, yet the investment that this would need is not going to happen while there is such ambiguity in noise regulations, and this is why we call upon you to clarify your position on whether clear and specific guidelines should be introduced to help to bring a sense of fairness and much needed stability to the organisations within the music industry.
Here is a link to DEFRA’s information packs on noise regulations. If anyone were to complain about one of our businesses, this is the guide that they would use.
Please note that the entire guide is written in subjective terms. “What is a noise to one person may be pleasurable to another.” “This booklet is only a guide to neighbour noise issues. It is up to each person to think about the risk to their personal safety and property before approaching any situation.“ “Bothered by noise?” As such, the entire guide fails in the one objective it has, which is to convey information for what is acceptable and what is not.
It is a matter that is close to people’s hearts. A recent e -petition which was set up to protect music venues from being closed down due to people moving into property next to it, knowing that there is a music venue based there, and then complaining that they now live next door to a music venue, garnered over 43,000 signitures, despite a relative lack of any attention by the media.
Therefore, we ask that you clarify your position on the matter, so that we can be sure as to the official policy that our political leaders have with regards to their stance on noise regulations that are creating a huge amount of instability in a quickly vanishing industry.
Do you support calls for specific and quantitative guidelines and regulations that will provide clarity to this issue?
Would you support calls to take decisions on whether a business is causing a disturbance on a factual and measurable basis, instead of on an emotional and subjective basis?
I will leave you with the words of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
“For the last six or seven years, I’ve been making an impassioned speech in which I point out how London has more live music venues than any other city on earth. It’s in those venues, those teeming wombs of London talent that of course we hope to produce not just fantastic music now but the next Rolling Stones, the next Adele, the next Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith. They’re of huge economic importance, not just cultural importance, to our city, and that’s why it’s so worrying that we’re seeing the pressure from property prices, from development, take away so many of those live venues across town. That’s why we’ve set up the live music venue task force and why their work is so important. Let’s keep our live music venues live in London.”
Please help us achieve this by giving us a framework that we can work with, so that studios can help bands improve their craft, and so that music venues can allow bands to showcase it. We hope to hear from you soon. Many thanks for your time.
Rehearsal and Recording Studios.
Bally Studios, Tottenham Hale, N17.
Mill Hill Music Complex, Mill Hill, NW7.
Downs Sounds Rehearsal Studios, N11.
The Premises, E2
BonaFide Studio, N10
Soup Studios, E1W
The Secret Warehouse of Sound
Terminal Studios, SE16
The Engine Rooms, E3
The Rehearsal Rooms
Tweeters Rehearsal Studios
Lucky Stone Studio
Neon Sound Studios
Alternator – Recording Studio & Rehearsal Rooms
Nepenthe Recording Studios
The Pit Recording Studio & Rehearsal Rooms
Rocket Park Studios
Meet & Jam, Online music platform and rehearsal booking service.
Music Venue Trust
Music Producers Guild
Alt Mu Magazine (ALT-MU)