UK: Agent Of Change: Situationists, Cover Versions And… Spinal Tap

Last Updated: 12 April 2018
Article by Geraint Hughes

Co-authored by Brieanah Gouveia an Art History MSc student at the University of Glasgow

The concern that the commercialisation of our cities is ignoring the importance of culture for the populace is nothing new – just ask the Situationists. They were raising their concerns 60 odd years ago about the way Paris had been going since Haussmann's plan in the 1800s!

Fast forward to 2018 and the UK, Politicians have been cranking their amps all the way up to... (More on this later) on incorporating 'Agent of Change' ("AOC") into our planning system... but what exactly is all the racket about?

What is AOC?

In a nutshell, AOC requires that those carrying out new development or operations (i.e. the agents of change) are responsible for mitigating the impacts of that change.

In the present context, respective Housing Ministers in Holyrood and Westminster have been harmonising, specifically, about to the need to relieve a burden on local music venues.

The collective view appears to be that the way to reduce this burden is by incorporating AOC into planning policy. The idea being that the 'incomer' must finance noise attenuation measures to alleviate disturbances to its residents. Or similarly, if an existing music venue wishes to expand its services, then it must shoulder the cost.

One of the overriding concerns appears to be that more often than not, the cost of turning the volume down when property developers choose to build nearby can force music venues to pull the plug for good... or is it?

Backing Track

So why make specific reference to live music venues?

As ever with planning policy, there is a political angle. When John Spellar MP presented his Private Members Bill into Westminster relating to AOC, he set out that the Bill was designed to protect music venues from closure or crippling costs arising from the development of new residential development in the vicinity, especially over questions of noise. Furthermore, that losing such venues narrows opportunity for working class youngsters.

This was echoed in Scotland. Kevin Stewart MSP noted his "attraction" to embedding AOC into our planning system at the introduction of the Planning (Scotland) Bill. Again, with reference to protecting talent in the music industry and ensuring there is no threat to the viability of music venues as a result of new development in their vicinity.

John Spellar went a bit further and set out that ultimately the factor makes this provision (AOC) "imperative", is Brexit. Specifically, the uncertainty created by Brexit and the importance of "maximising every possible advantage that Britain has"...noting that "the British music industry is one hell of an advantage".

In Scotland, whilst the 'B' word hasn't yet been mentioned in relation to AOC, live music is believed to contribute some £334 million to the Scottish tourism economy... it is clearly big business.

Cover Version?

Following Kevin Stewart's statement, the Chief Planner's letter noted that (for quite some time now), national planning policy has already required reflection on the impact of new development on the character and amenity of town centres as a material consideration. Indeed, when making planning decisions, it is standard practice for the potential impact of proposed development on existing nearby uses, as well as the potential impact of those uses on the new development, to be considered by the Local Planning Authority.

Furthermore, Planning Advice Note 1/2011 addresses 'Planning and Noise' advises that "when considering applications for new noise sensitive development close to an existing noise source, the likely level of noise exposure at the time of the application and any increase that may reasonably be expected in the foreseeable future are likely to be relevant, as will the extent to which it is possible to mitigate the adverse effects of noise".

Evidence of this in practice can be seen in the ongoing appeal ref: PPA-170-2123. This appeal concerns a refusal to grant approval of matters specified in condition relating to a residential development. The issue in debate being the potential impact on residential amenity as a result of noise emanating from an existing adjoining industrial estate.

Hit, Miss or Maybe?

In theory, the application of AOC is to lessen the incidence and effect of noise complaints on long-standing businesses and leisure destinations with the added benefit of boosting the economy. The challenge of funding additional soundproofing or glazing projects after flats pop up next door has contributed to a number of venues closing their doors in recent years. So, undoubtedly, AOC is a well-intentioned intervention.

That said, perhaps inadvertently, AOC does present an interesting conflict; by protecting the interests of the live music industry (and seemingly wider economic interests) against incoming residential development – will this compromise the ability of developers to operate in city centres? Will the costs of noise attenuation make inner city development less viable/attractive to developers? What will this do to property prices? What could the resultant pressures be on other housing markets/land uses?

Where does Spinal Tap fit into all this?... Well, you can well imagine proponents of AOC pointing at it and saying "but this...goes to 11"... Whether AOC is in fact, "one louder than 10" remains to be seen.

It's a maybe from me!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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