The big debate: Both sides have their say on Hackney Council’s new licensing policy

Old Street station at night. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

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

The bitter row over Hackney’s hugely unpopular new licensing policy is still raging a week on – with neither side showing any sign of calling it a night.

Old Street station at night. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

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

Cabinet members have been defending it on social media, while campaigners and supporters of the night-time economy have arranged a protest on Friday outside the town hall.

They feel the “core” midnight curfews for all new venues, the doubling of the Shoreditch special policy area (SPA) and a 10pm curfew on outdoor activities will destroy the borough’s nightlife.

And a consultation on the plans received 680 responses from people, most of whom lived in the borough. Of those, 73 per cent were against the plans, which have been two years in the making.

The council, for its part, says the changes, which were two years in the making, are needed to strike a difficult balance between enabling the clubs and pubs to thrive and supporting neighbours who live in the area, many in council blocks. Chiefs say the changes will not be detrimental, and that each licence application will be judged on its own merit.

Old Street station at night. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

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

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We spoke to people on both sides of the debate.


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FOR the policy:

Musician Michael Gough, 61, has lived in Charles Square for 17 years with his wife and four daughters. He has lived in Hackney all of his life.

His council block is above the stretch of Old Street bars including Roadtrip and the Workshop and Bounce. The buildings used to be the block’s garages, and tenants fought to keep them, but the town hall, and then Hoxton councillor Phil Glanville, approved the change.

Michael has a Facebook page for people in the block’s 50 flats to post examples of anti-social behaviour, the majority of which are videos of noise coming from the bars, including Last Days of Shoreditch.

“Red Market [Last Days of Shoreditch] is closing this weekend, but we’ve had six years of this noise,” Michael said. “This is a built up residential area. It’s okay having all these bars providing it’s not in a residential area, but if we’re all getting sleep deprivation it’s not.

“I’m a musician myself working in the night-time economy. There are a lot of flaws. There’s no soundproofing. We have four bars underneath our block. It’s a 1960s concrete building and the music resonates.

“If you stay in on the weekend you don’t get any sleep. It wasn’t like this when we moved in, it wasn’t as manic. I don’t think any other borough would put up with it. I know it’s trendy but people have to live here and go to work.

“If you walked around here you’d be in for a shock.

“As for the new policy, it’s a good idea but it should apply to the existing bars as well. Everything needs a cut off, within reason.

“What would I say to people complaining about the policy? Try living here. Imagine if when they go home at 5am they couldn’t get any sleep. How would they feel?

“It’s alright being trendy but when you walk out in the morning and you’re block is covered in urine, sick and broken glass it’s not nice.

“You could say I’m a miserable old sod but unless you live here you can’t comment. There’s not a night you can come home and sit down and watch TV without music coming from somewhere, people shouting and screaming. And when you do go to sleep you’re worried about how and when you’re going to be woken up.

“People say oh why don’t you just move. They don’t realise that we were here before the clubs and bars. Where do you go?”

Phil Glanville is mayor of Hackney, having been elected in 2016 and again earlier this year. He was formerly the borough’s housing chief and a Hoxton councillor and has lived in Hackney for 15 years.

“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.

“Last week we agreed our new licensing policy, and 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, and balancing the needs of our late night venues, along 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 that 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. I’ve said myself that if I didn’t know better, I’d support it. I love Hackney’s nightlife – it’s one of the reasons that 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 of them just want a good night’s sleep.

“It’s also worth noting that nightlife costs the council about £1.5m a year more than it brings in, with extra street cleaning being the main cost. This is money we can’t spend on services for our residents.

“It’s essential that we achieve a balanced approach.”


AGAINST the policy

Dan Beaumont is the owner of Dalston Superstore, and also ran Dance Tunnel underneath his pizza joint Voodoo Rays in Kingsland High Street until it closed two years ago due to the “licensing climate”.

He said the popular venue was unable to get the hours it needed to be sustainable.

Dan also has a regular show on Dalston’s NTS Radio.

He told the Gazette: “As part of Hackney’s small-business community, and having worked closely with the council in supporting initiatives to create better and safer LGBTQ+ spaces, I am disappointed to see such a such a regressive licensing policy put in place last week.

“We are not alone, as a business from Hackney, in our concern for the culture within the council that has brought about this situation, and we fear the impact it will have on the borough and its many communities.

“The council says that the majority of noise and nuisance is a result of night time business, and that this policy a solution, but has failed to provide any data in the evidence base to put this in context.

“This policy will not deal with any of these issues but will continue to backfire significantly in the direction of residents.

“This past weekend, the police used two closure notices in public parks (Hackney Marshes and Well Street Common) to prevent illegal events from taking place, a direct consequence of the lack of a workable licensing infrastructure in the borough.

“Incidents like this will continue to happen, disrupting residents and wildlife, as long as the council peruses a policy which directly opposes the reality of life in a modern city.

“Furthermore, by restricting access to licenses in this way, the council is creating barriers for small, independent businesses and denying access to local entrepreneurs who are unlikely to be able to afford the premium of an existing licensed premises, or the legal fees to apply for a new license in an SPA.

“Hackney is a demographically young borough, and requires a progressive approach to licensing that meets the needs of all residents; both users of the Night Time Economy and people who want peace and quiet.

“The path that Hackney Council seems intent on pursuing is the worst outcome for all parties.”

Jonathan Seidler lives in London Fields, but is originally from Sydney, Australia. He reflects on a similar licensing row that broke out down under, and the lessons he believes Hackney should learn.

“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.

“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.”

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