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Planning for the Future offers no reassurance about the retention and development of arts, culture, music and the night-time economy

Nightclub revellers

The government's proposed planning reforms have a huge blind spot when it comes to cultural activities and the night-time economy, argue Shain Shapiro and Tara Tank

In July, Robert Jenrick announced new use class order regulations to protect England’s theatres, concert halls and live music venues from redevelopment or demolition until 2022, given the immediate impact of Covid-19. 

At the time, Jenrick said that it is “vital” these cultural institutions are “properly protected by the planning system”. Yet Planning for the Future, the government’s white paper that proposes the most significant overhaul of the planning system since World War II, announced less than a month later, does not align with the secretary of state’s comments. 

The objective is to deliver more homes, faster. But housing does not work in isolation. Arts, culture, music and night-time economy spaces create vibrant places to live and support economic growth, tourism, employment, and education, among other things. 

“These reforms could create an ecosystem where it will be more difficult to secure planning permission for cultural use and easier to eliminate it”

Planning for the Future, however, offers little reference to cultural venues and spaces and no guidance on how plan-making can best inform their retention and development under the proposed changes. Long term, these reforms could create an ecosystem where it will be more difficult to secure planning permission for cultural use and easier to eliminate it. In regards to preserving, protecting and expanding arts, music, cultural and night-time economy infrastructure, Planning for the Future offers the wrong answers to the wrong questions. 

Read the full response to Planning for the Future

Sound Diplomacy, in partnership with the Music Venue Trust, the Creative Land Trust, Studiomakers, Outset Contemporary Arts Fund and the Night Time Industries Association has prepared a more detailed response to Planning for the Future (see below), outlining its potential impact on England’s wider music, culture, art and nightlife infrastructure.

Planning for the Future fails to recognise, encourage or protect many cultural facilities

There are a number of reasons to be concerned. First, preservation of cultural heritage at the local level is limited to conservation areas and listed building consent. Planning for the Future fails to recognise or protect other cultural facilities like artist workspace, unless it is classed as Sui Generis. 

Second, if Section 106 is to be abolished and replaced by a consolidated infrastructure levy, further guidance is needed to outline how cultural provision – spaces, places and venues –  could be supported through developer contributions. 

Third, there is no reference to the dual, yet interlinked, roles of planning and licensing and how they impact the evening and night-time economy. 

Fourth, a high number of cultural venues are set to be in ‘Renewal’ zones – as it is believed that most town and city centres will be renewal zones. How the zoning reform impacts cultural venues and permitted development around these venues is yet to be defined. It is imperative that ‘agent of change’ requirements remain, but this has not been included.

Fifth, use class and permitted development rights (PDR) reforms, both introduced on 20 July and separate from the white paper, fail to assuage these concerns. The ability to convert most uses to housing, including light industrial or high street shops, will reduce artist and creative workspace supply over time, and create further burdens for noise-producing uses which came first and those moving into these new homes later –  with no requirement of additional soundproofing –  who may wish to sleep.  

Planning for the Future offers the wrong answers to the wrong questions”

Lastly, a commitment to beauty and good design does not include soundscaping; only landscaping.   

The reforms are a unique opportunity to expand our global leading cultural and creative industries with the right policies. The introduction of a national infrastructure levy offers an opportunity to introduce a cultural infrastructure levy, which could include sport, playgrounds, creative industries and night-time economy uses. 

Planning for the Future is light on detail, and so it remains unclear how the reformed planning system will foster culture across the built environment should the proposals become law. The revisions to the NPPF will no doubt provide clarification, but this is on condition that ‘cultural wellbeing’ does not get written out or devalued. 

These changes pose one significant question: what will be the driving force in shaping our future towns and cities? The music, cultural and night-time industries, together with planners, must actively engage in the consultation process and push through change. We are not only designing and planning places to live; we are designing and planning places to live for. 

Shain Shapiro is founder and chief executive and Tara Tank is lead researcher at Sound Diplomacy

Photo | Shutterstock


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