When Liverpool City Council adopted the Agent of Change principle in October, it seemed as if they were finally siding with the city’s music venues, rather than developers.
However, the recent decision to allow a block of flats next to 24 Kitchen Street to install windows that do not provide adequate acoustic proofing, shows that words must be followed by actions. The venue has been embroiled in disputes with the council that go back 3 years now, but the council’s most recent decision threatens 24 Kitchen Street’s very existence.
Problems began back in 2016 when developers went ahead with planning for a residential apartment building directly next to the venue. Kitchen Street made a representation against them as they believed there to be insufficient acoustic insulation in the developers planning, which would almost certainly lead to noise complaints from future residents. The developers then had to perform an acoustic survey, however they did so on a Tuesday morning which clearly was not a time that the venue was open and making noise. In January 2017, they were then told by the council to redo their measurements in a more appropriate way e.g. across a diverse range of events, at peak opening hours.
Kitchen Street stated that Liverpool City Council told the developers that if they can prove the venue is too loud, that will improve their argument for the relaxation of acoustic insulation. The developers concluded that Kitchen Street were 7db too loud (a significant amount), which would find Kitchen Street responsible for receiving their volume by that amount. The venue argued they were not, and met with the developer to try and finally resolve this issue.
In May 2019, 24 Kitchen Street published a report arguing that they hadn’t been a nuisance to existing residences. The only way for the developer to argue against this, would be by gaining access to houses nearby and taking the measurements from there. This proved to be impossible for the developer as there were no active noise complaints.
Kitchen Street (in their recent social media posts) how the Council took matters into their own hands and were able to conduct acoustic tests from nearby residents, after there had been a complaint following an outdoor terrace party. The plans for the tests were made at a meeting at which no representative from Kitchen Street was present (as their acoustic consultants were on holiday) and they were never given minutes from this meeting either.
When the Council finally conducted the acoustic tests in September of this year, no noise could be heard in the front room of the residents house. Furthermore, the council took only a 15 minute snapshot of readings inside the venue itself, with assurance to Kitchen Street that these readings wouldn’t be used against them. It was this short reading that the council was to use as ‘typical’ noise levels coming from Kitchen Street.
This has all led up to Liverpool City Council’s most recent decision, which will allow the developers to install windows with insufficient sound proofing. These windows were designed upon the premise that the venue will have to reduce their noise output by 7db (which the developer has already began to install prior to receiving planning permission from the council). Kitchen Street argues that they should not be held responsible for decreasing their volume, as the developer is the ‘agent of change’ is this case.
If these plans are to go ahead, there will almost inevitably lead to noise complaints against 24 Kitchen Street, when residents move in September 2020. Unfortunately it can only take a few noise complaints for a venue to be forced to shut down.
Ioan Roberts, owner of 24 Kitchen Street, said that there is a “clear disparity between council rhetoric and actions on the ground”, considering the council endorsed the Agent of Change principle only a few months ago. He said that the council are “capitulating to the developers” by allowing them to save some money on noise insulation whilst threatening surrounding music venues in the process.
The next step for Kitchen Street is to campaign in partnership with the Music Venue Trust for a Deed of Easement to be implemented. According to the Music Venue Trust: “A Deed of Easement is a legal agreement signed by future residents of any new development which says, in simple terms, that the new resident knows the venue is there, knows that it being there results in music and crowds, and accepts that this is a normal part of the life of the city in this location which they acknowledge and accept they have chosen to live with.”
Liverpool City Council has recently released a statement mentioning the prospect of a Deed of Easement, saying : “24 Kitchen Street is a fantastic asset to the Baltic Triangle and Liverpool’s music scene. It’s for that reason that the city council has spent a huge amount of time working with the venue and the developer of the neighbouring scheme on understanding and resolving any acoustic issues.
After a number of noise assessments and late night visits the council is satisfied that the new residential building incorporates a sufficiently high-performance specification of acoustic proofing which would sufficiently mitigate against noise from typical events at 24 Kitchen Street.”
The city council recently adopted the Agent of Change policy to ensure more weight was given to music venues such as 24 Kitchen Street in cases such as this. And to ensure future relations between the venue and the residents is based on a healthy footing, the city council is also looking at a Deed of Easement which would provide legal assurances to the existing position of all parties concerned.”
Liam Kelly, Chair of the Baltic Triangle CIC, believes that “[People] should also demand more from developer, who ultimately are the ones seeking permission to build with inappropriate building materials. Show dissatisfaction at the architects who designed it; the acoustician who worked on it.”
Going forward the future is uncertain for 24 Kitchen Street, and as many have pointed out, it is ironic that Liverpool is simultaneously a Unesco World Heritage site for music whilst the city council is making it difficult for music venues to even stay open. Depending on how this case with develops, it could set a precedent for how Liverpool City Council treats music venues in the future.
Clara Cullen from the Music Venue Trust summarised why it so important to ensure that music venues stay open: “Grassroots Music Venues are places where a community is formed and centred around. These spaces have helped push forward creativity and allow us to escape the mundane. Opening and running a Grassroots Music Venue is never going to make you rich. To be frank, it’s often a pretty thankless task and with increased licensing, planning and local council policies, it’s a pretty tough ask. The amazing people who have chosen to open and run Grassroots Music Venues do it for the love of live music. They are the dance floor devotees, unsung heroes and maverick spirits that keep local scenes alive.”