Leonie Martin looks at Hackney Council’s recent decision to clampdown on nightlife, what restrictive laws like these mean for London’s culture, and the risk of sanitation.
Last Wednesday Hackney Council unanimously voted to impose some of the UK’s most restrictive licensing laws on the borough’s nightlife. The controversial decision means that all new pubs, bars and clubs will be forced to close by 11pm on weekdays and midnight at the weekend. It also doubles the size of the Shoreditch ‘Special Policy Area’ (SPA), which effectively makes opening a new licenced venue in the area close to impossible.
It comes despite overwhelming opposition from locals. A recent consultation found that 75% of Hackney residents said they were opposed to the council’s plans for a clamp down on the borough’s night time economy. This included 77% against doubling the size of the Shoreditch ‘Special Policy Area’ and 84% against making new bars close at 11pm on weekdays and midnight at weekends anywhere in the borough.
Why is it important?
London is a culturally diverse, vibrant and open city with a thriving nightlife scene, particularly in East London. There are obvious benefits from a night time economy such as jobs and tax contributions but arguably more important are the softer benefits that pubs, bars, clubs and late night music venues bring. These cultural spaces birth creativity, innovation, new movements, genres and ideas, all of which become part of a city’s heritage. Yet these benefits are difficult to communicate and hard to commoditise.
We must not underestimate the benefit culture brings to our society. Why do people from the UK and the rest of the world come to live in London? Culture plays a major part. To many of us, if the nightlife is dead, the city is dead. With Brexit on the horizon, it is more important than ever before that London is a progressive and open to all city.
No one is claiming that these venues come without challenges. Violence, drugs and litter come with the territory, and acknowledging this and putting forth ways to address it must be part of the argument. What’s more, Dan Beaumont, owner of Dalston Superstore and Voodoo Ray’s, rightly points out that the party won’t stop. If these measures are passed, illegal venues will emerge and bring “no sound-proofing, no security team, no free drinking water, and certainly no safe-space policy”.
What’s the reaction been?
It is almost a year since Sadiq Khan unveiled his vision for London “to become a leading 24-hour global city” able to compete with the likes of Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and New York. Sadiq’s ‘24 hour vision for London’ included the appointment of London’s first ever Night Czar, Amy Lamé, charged with protecting and promoting London’s night time economy.
After the news broke, Lamé tweeted “Local authorities are responsible for licensing decisions, not the Mayor of London or the Night Czar. If you would like more information, here is a link to the Licensing Act 2003”. Lamé’s response was met with fierce criticism on social media, with people questioning the point of her £75,000-a-year role if it is not to influence these type of decisions.
Her response, as DJ Duo Waze & Odyssey tweeted, was “defensive” and “deflective” with the pair arguing her time would be “better spent briefing press and building momentum to take this further”. No, she does not have statutory power – but she does have a platform, one that she has vacated on this issue.
This has fuelled disillusionment. DJ Four Tet, tweeted “Hey Night Czar and Sadiq Khan you are failing to protect nightlife in London. You need to do more and you should persuade Hackney council to rethink their plans”.
Michael Segalov’s piece for NOISEY provides insightful context for the ongoing fallout. Over the weekend, he headed out onto the streets of Hackney after 11pm “to find out if nightlife is ruining lives… spoiler, it’s not”.
“Shoutout to our Government for trying to make us the world’s first truly 12-hour city with a 24 hour tube line” – Midland, another DJ, on Twitter.
The local campaign group We Love Hackney is planning the next line of attack on this issue (sign up to their email list welovehackney.org for updates) and local residents are joining on Friday to protest outside Hackney Town Hall.
More broadly, there is a need to better communicate the benefits these venues bring to our society and the risk posed if we lose them. This issue isn’t exclusive to Hackney. Dance Tunnel in Dalston was forced to close in 2016, LBGT venues across London are shutting down and the never-ending dispute between Fabric and Islington council risks the end of one of the UK’s most iconic nightclubs.
Anyone with an interest in living, working or studying in a vibrant, world beating city, needs to master how to better communicate both the hard and soft benefits of a thriving night time economy. Without better communication, we risk a city that is safe, sanitised… and boring.