UK

Could live music deregulation have a downside?

The Dublin Castle pub in Camden, London
Image caption This pub in London's Camden Town specialises in live music nights

Earlier this year the government unveiled plans for a wholesale deregulation of entertainment licensing in the UK. The news was welcomed by live music promoters but there are fears it will cause a nuisance to neighbours.

In September, plans to scrap much of the Licensing Act 2003 and deregulate live music venues in England and Wales were unveiled by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and the consultation process ends on Saturday.

The DCMS proposed scrapping the requirement for those organising live music events for fewer than 5,000 people to notify the local authority.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "Where people have expressed support for regulation, we're keeping it... but, if it's tedious and pointless, it's going. So no more... having to pay for a piece of paper just to put on a little live music in a pub."

The deregulation was welcomed by the music industry.

But a survey conducted by the Institute of Licensing (IOL) found some of its members had "concerns" about noise and safety implications.

Alan Bratt, a former environmental health officer with 20 years' experience in the industry, said the proposals threatened to "throw the baby out with the bath water".

Image caption Deregulation would remove the need for Punch and Judy shows to obtain licences

Mr Bratt, who is the convener of the Noise Group of the Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire Environmental Protection Group, said: "It beggars belief that they are trying to do this."

He said the changes to the law should be of concern to anyone living near a pub, club - or even a park or open space.

Mr Bratt said: "There is a danger of a return to the free-for-all days when people held raves whenever and wherever they could.

"Then when people complain the politicians will be running around asking: 'Why was this allowed to happen?'" he added.

Shadow Culture Minister Dan Jarvis said: "Live music, artists and amateur arts groups must be able to flourish, and it is right that small venues should be able to enlist budding artists to showcase their work, and promote arts and culture in our communities with the minimum amount of bureaucracy.

"But the government must recognise that licensing laws play an important part in protecting our communities from nuisance noise and behaviour, and in keeping people safe."

'Minimal impact'

Hamish Birchall, a jazz drummer and campaigner for the Live Music Forum, told the BBC: "There are legitimate concerns about venues holding 5,000 people but for events which have a minimal impact, such as a small jazz ensemble, I don't believe licensing is justified."

He pointed out that under the current system a publican who puts on a solo performer without a public entertainment licence is committing a criminal offence and faces a fine of up to £20,000 or a spell in jail.

Mr Birchall said Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster had sponsored a Live Music Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, which would allow live music performances between 8am and 11pm.

The dangers posed in venues holding under 5,000 people was illustrated most graphically in the United States in 2003 when 100 people died in a fire caused by a heavy metal band's pyrotechnic display.

In 2008 the band's insurers agreed to pay $1m (£564,000) to survivors and relatives of the victims of the fire at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island.

Anomalies

Mr Bratt said there was a "real risk" of something similar happening in the UK.

"There is potential for serious injury and heaven forbid you get the sort of event they had in the States," he added.

All sides are agreed there are a number of anomalies in the Licensing Act which need to be ironed out.

Under the current system licences are required for:

  • School plays; children's films at toddler groups; school discos where tickets are sold to raise funds; and dance exhibitions at school fetes
  • Folk singers playing in pubs; pianists in restaurants; and brass bands playing in public parks
  • Punch and Judy shows and street artist performances

Unveiling the deregulation plans, Tourism Minister John Penrose said: "Current entertainment licensing rules are a mess.

Image caption In 2003 a fire at a gig in Rhode Island killed 100 rock music fans

"Pointless bureaucracy and licence fees imposed on community groups trying to put on simple amateur productions and fund-raising events sap energy and deaden people's desire to get involved."

He said deregulation would help pubs to diversify and weather the tough economic times.

"That's why I want to set a match to all this nonsense, and trust sensible people to act sensibly with regulation retained only where rightly needed to keep audiences and performances safe," said Mr Penrose.

At present someone wanting to hold an event which does not involve the sale of alcohol - consumption of alcohol is unregulated - does not need a licence but must submit a Temporary Event Notice (Ten).

Ironically changes were made to the Ten scheme earlier this year which allowed environmental health officers, as well as the police, to object to such an event.

But under the proposed changes an event organiser would not even need a Ten.

'Concern'

The IOL's executive officer, Sue Nelson, said: "The views from our member survey shows general support for deregulation of some regulated entertainment, but there is a balance to be struck."

The IOL conducted a survey of its 1,300 members. Nearly 120 replied, 70% of whom worked for local authorities.

Image caption The government says the changes would help struggling pubs diversify and keep them open

Ms Nelson said: "It is generally accepted that there is merit in some deregulation such as school plays but there is concern about the potential for unlicensed events with up to 5,000 people attending.

"The Licensing Act is seen by many as an avenue to get everyone discussing potential issues in relation to an event before it happens."

Ms Nelson said there was a fear that without such notification of events, they could take place and problems could develop out of the blue.

She said: "If regulated entertainment is deregulated for capacities of up to 5,000, there is concern that events with that sort of capacity will not always be properly planned, and without any input from the police and council, potential issues may be overlooked and result in problems concerning nuisance, safety and potentially disorder."

The government has stressed there are no plans to change the law on alcohol licensing or on venues hosting more than 5,000 people.

Mr Penrose stressed the importance of public consultation and said: "It's important we get the views of those working in the industry, and to make sure that the principles of public safety, prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm are safeguarded."

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