Gazette letters: For and against new licensing plan

Old Street station at night. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

Old Street station at night. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK - Credit: Archant

They say you can’t please everyone all of the time – and of course that’s not in my job description – but last week proved that more than any other since I became mayor of Hackney, writes Phil Glanville, mayor of Hackney.

Last week we agreed our new licensing policy. While many have applauded a common sense approach, we’ve also heard from residents who don’t think it goes far enough, and businesses and those who visit our nightlife who accuse us of being “draconian”.

This policy took over two years to develop and included not only a consultation but also workshops and detailed studies. Balancing the needs of our late night venues with with those of the residents of Hackney was always our aim.

This is why we now have a policy that puts the onus on new venues to prove by opening after 11pm in the week or midnight at the weekend, they will not have a negative impact on the area, and we’ll support them to do that. This isn’t a blanket ban or curfew as campaigners would have you believe, but we think it’s important we have a policy that allows us to say no to venues that cannot or will not act responsibly.

The “We Love Hackney” group against the policy – led by a group of businesspeople and investors – has led a dishonest but effective campaign. If I didn’t know better, I’d support it. I love Hackney’s nightlife – it’s one of the reasons I made this place my home. I moved here in 2003, and spent my formative years in Shoreditch and Dalston before representing the area as a councillor. It provides jobs for local people. I was a barman and I know how important those jobs are. For many like me, nightlife is at the heart of the borough’s creativity, inclusivity, and vibrancy. So I understand why people have risen to defend it and I know we’ve got to work to reassure people with genuine concerns.

But this is a tiny borough, only 6.8 square miles, with a population coming ever closer to 300,000. Many of our residents enjoy the borough’s rich cultural and social life, and many just want a good night’s sleep. It’s also worth noting nightlife costs the council £1.5m a year more than it brings in, with extra street cleaning being the main cost. It’s essential we achieve a balanced approach.

The disbelief and frustration many Hackney residents are feeling at the council’s decision to increase Shoreditch and Dalston SPAs and introduce “generally acceptable” hours for nightlife trading is certainly not unfamiliar to anyone from Sydney, writes Jonathan Seidler, London Fields, Hackney, originally from Sydney, Australia.

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Five years ago, in response to a spate of violence in Sydney’s busiest nightlife precinct, our government introduced lockout laws. Similar to what’s proposed for Hackney, they created zoned restrictions for late night trading, including a curfew on venues that were crucial to the live music scene.

Ostensibly, these regulations were designed to clean up the area and keep people safe. What they ultimately achieved was to rip the guts out of Sydney’s nighttime economy and offer them up as a dowry to developers.

Sydney is now derisively referred to by young people as “a ghost town”. It’s where you go out to get dinner on a Friday night and are in bed by 11pm. A draconian police presence has pushed late night revellers further into outer-lying suburbs for illegal raves. Sound familiar?

The brutal truth is that gentrification and property interests cannot be siloed to one city or even one hemisphere. In Sydney, we had baby boomers essentially demand a kneejerk response to anti-social behaviour. In Hackney, residents overwhelmingly voted against such a move.

That’s because your council doesn’t care about you any more than our state government cared about us.

Protesting these regulations, while they may not feel as immediate as something like Save Fabric, is arguably more important. They are a gateway drug for paper pushers who will start at midnight curfews and push the boat out as far as they can.

Do not let them. Make their lives a misery. Lock your council members out of their favourite restaurants if you need to. No doubt in the coming days, key Hackney stakeholders will organise a rally. If you care, turn up.

Take it from me: learn from Sydney’s mistakes.