It’s been a funny old year. And, in true Liverpool style, it’s been a year of wild extremes. On the one hand, we’ve been voted Britain’s Friendliest City, Conde Nast Traveller’s best city break in the UK outside London and Edinburgh, and the best city for Nightlife in the UK.
On the other, we’ve seen a year sadly studded with venue closures, bar closures and club closures.
So, you’d think, faced with these two curious phenomena, our Council would be hard at work, drawing up an action plan to support the one area of our city’s economy that’s showing real growth.
Think again. For, on January 4 (when, they’re hoping, we’ll all still be too hungover to notice) the Council is aiming to pass a new piece of legislation aimed at making the city’s late night offering akin to yet another sleepy suburb. And it’s all thanks to Councillor Stephen Munby’s desire to implement a Cumulative Impact Policy.
The policy is designed to give the City Council more powers to prevent ‘nuisance’ licensed venues by allowing the Licensing Committee to consider the cumulative effect of new premises (including bars, clubs, pubs, restaurants, late night take aways and off-licenses). In effect, they want the powers to pre-judge a venue’s ‘nuisance’ levels before it’s even served its first shooter – and they want city centre residents unhappy with living in a bustling city centre to be allowed to call time on local bars. A fair and measured response? What do you think?
The night time economy is worth £66billion to Britain – and it’s something that Liverpool’s increasingly taking more than its share of: in pubs, bars and – yes – music venues, theatres and art venues. People come to us for a good time. To be entertained, enlightened and made to feel welcome.
With Sound City, Music Week, Mathew Street and the Biennial we’re increasingly punching above our weight in our calendar of must-see, regular events. With vision, forward thinking and a sensible grasp of what urban city centres should be about, Austin made South by Southwest the world’s most important festival of music, film and interactive gubbins.
The economic impact SXSW had on Austin in 1990 was $1.5 million. Twenty years later, the three overlapping festivals pumped $113 million into the local economy. The city council has its own Music Manager, and Sound Engineer – clubs and bars (and businesses and empty lofts) have free parking for musicians, late night licences and a sensible understanding of what makes a post-industrial, shrinking city beat with life (and cash) again.
“It’s been a bumpy ride, but we don’t think that a handful of neighbours should dominate the discussion over any of the proceedings” says Austin Mayor, Lee Leffingwell. “With an event like this, there are going to be some disruptions,” Leffingwell said, “but I think it’s worth it.”
This year, SXSW-sanctioned events — including panels, concerts and film screenings — drew 286,000 people who booked 47,500 room nights at local hotels. Austin’s population – at 600,000 – is similar to ours. Liverpool could, easily, be the Austin of the UK.
But we need venues. And we need them now more than ever.
This year saw the ClubScan ID intervention at Heebie Jeebies. A city stalwart, drastically brought to book because of a spate of thefts: chancers on the lookout for a Mazuma mobile windfall. Do we feel better for this intervention? Of course we don’t. Sledgehammer. Nut.
“There’s no denying the place was far more chilled out, and there was virtually no trouble” says Heebies’ Alfie Torres Silva “but trade dropped by about 25%. We shut the basement, and rarely opened the top floor. The only way for that system to work was if every late night venue installed it. Then it would have been a level playing field.” Heebies’ owners recently closed The Masque and The Jacaranda: two cornerstones of the city’s nightlife.
Councillor Munby’s aim is to seriously curtail the area’s nighttime ecosystem. The Cumulative Impacts scheme allows for anyone – from local residents to businesses, police or councillors – to lay claim that a venue is negatively impacting on their quality of life.
In other words, bars that have traded in the Ropewalks – that have lead the way in the area’s phenomenal regeneration – face the very real threat of being closed down, should light-sleeping residents in the Iliad/Elysian Fields developments decide that, for them, city living should be as hushed as the suburbs. Alfie’s heard of pre-printed complaints letters being handed out to tenants in neighbouring flats by a small minority of dwellers intent on silencing the area for good. Frankly, it seems bizarre to SevenStreets why one area of the city that’s genuinely thriving should be faced with any form of overly-punative, and counter-productive intervention.
But the idea was first mooted by Inspector Mark Morgan, Merseyside Police. His concern? With impending police cuts, the force was getting overstretched: more bars would cause serious strain on their resources.
“Yes, the drinking culture has changed. But don’t blame the bars,” Alfie says. “When the Ropewalks fist opened it was something of a secret. Townies and troublemakers drank in local bars, meat-heads never thought of coming into the city for a drink. They might have piled in later to go clubbing. But no one goes clubbing now. Everything’s much more mixed up.”
As a result, Alfie says, the city centre is busier, and, crucially, younger.
“When I started going out, you hardly saw any kids out and about. Now they make up the vast majority of the purchasing punters. Licensees see this, and adapt their venues accordingly.”
“The Ropewalks, midweek, is still a fantastic place to socialise. There’s always something happening, and students, locals, tourists and families can find a place to relax,” Alfie says. “The problem is, at the weekends, the atmosphere changes…”
The timing of the bill’s reading is interesting – squeeze in a vote after a couple of weeks of partying, Munby will no doubt be thinking, when memories of over-lubricated office workers parading the streets will be fresh in residents’ minds – and a safe passage can easily be assured.
But he’s not alone. Speaking in ‘After Dark’ – the licenced premises’ trade magazine – Mike Cockburn, the Council’s City Centre Manager, talked of the city’s ‘Design Out Crime’ initiative, aimed at making the city centre a ‘safer place for everyone’.
“Crucially, Liverpool is increasingly finding the confidence to secure its own future through a bold vision, economic growth and genuine partnership working, rather than as the recipient of handouts from Westminster and Brussels,” he says. “As part of this assertive strategy, the city has also come to realise that if it wants to continue its resurgence, it needs to adopt a more ‘interventionist’ approach.”
Interventionist? Let’s hope soon we’ll be voted the UK’s most Interventionist City then, eh, Mike? Sounds like fun.
As part of this aim, Cockburn talks of Liverpool’s ambition to make our city centre the safest (and safest feeling) of all the UK’s major cities. He even produces meaningless graphics. Jauntily coloured bar charts that are about as scientific as those you’d find on the back of a Pantene shampoo bottle showing the percentage of people who ‘feel safe’ in Liverpool city centre.
“There is a hugely negative impact of having a dominant alcohol-led culture after dark,” he says.
Yet, despite this – the same Council has allowed for more Tescos opening in Liverpool in the past five years than in any other city. In case he hasn’t noticed, they sell alcohol far cheaper than even the scuzziest of shooter bars.
No Cumulative Impact strategy can stop people getting hammered at home before they hit Concert Square. No Cumulative Impact strategy can address the fact that, in a jobs-starved market, bars and clubs are often the first chance for young people to earn a wage. And no Cumulative Impact strategy can ever, honestly, deal with the elephant in the room: that thriving, successful city centres are first and foremost a place of leisure, business and economics and, secondly, a place to sleep.
Which is, to our eyes, a million miles away from Councillor Munby’s view of our city centre’s priorities:
“I believe that now is the right time to introduce such a policy as it will give City Centre residents more power to stop nuisance premises from opening in the first place, and allow all residents to shape what the city’s night time economy looks like,” he says in his recent communication. Note that the city centre residents (and that includes some of us at SevenStreets) are top of the list. But that he assumes all we really care about is a decent night’s kip.
“I am strongly supporting brining in a CIP to cover the whole City Centre, as this will future-proof any policy and give City Centre residents the most influence,” he says.
SevenStreets finds it odd that, when it comes to preserving our UNESCO waterfront, the City Council has no qualms at all about allowing big business in, about lying down and letting Peel reshape the city for good, and about not wanting to preserve our revitalised city in aspic (which, in part we agree with). But, when it comes to our nighttime economy, the Council appear to take a starkly opposing view. They seem to play the ‘interventionist’ card only when it suits them. But a city’s economy isn’t a daylight only affair. We have to keep the cash flowing at night too: and, since the Cavern and the Casbah, this is something we’ve resolutely shown we know how to do. And how to do it without draconian intervention.
The City Council’s Licensing Committee will be considering whether to implement a Cumulative Impact Policy (CIP) in all of part of the City Centre on 4 January 2012 at 10am in the Collingwood Room at Millennium House. The options are:
A CIP only covering Ropewalks,
A CIP only covering Ropewalks and Mathew Street
A CIP covering the whole City Centre,
Not to bring in a CIP.
News: Following the meeting, today 4 Jan, it was decided to agree to a CIP covering Ropewalks and Mathew Street. This will not his will not affect any bars already operating, but licences seeking permission to open new premises only. If the council grants a licence, the onus is on the new bar owner to show that their bar will enhance the night time economy offer in that area, and isn’t just more of the same type of venue already existing.
After the meeting, Councillor Nick Small gave his response: “The Committee agreed to recommend to the full Council Meeting on January 18th that the Council introduce a Cumulative Impact Policy (CIP) covering the Ropewalks Area, the Cavern Quarter and Victoria Street. The effect of introducing a CIP would be to allow the Licensing Committee in future, when considering whether to grant a new licence, to take into account the broader impact that this could have on the area by increasing crime and disorder.”
“I think this is a very positive step forward for the development of the city centre as a place to live, visit and do business…Like many of you I would have preferred the CIP to take in a wider area because of the risk of displacement. However the Licensing Committee adopted a cautious view of how to proceed, wanting to ensure that any proposal was not vulnerable to judicial review, and therefore restricted the CIP to a fairly tight area where crime rates were relatively high. However if the full Council adopts the CIP it would be possible to extend the scope of it in future if evidence of displacement arose and I will be monitoring this situation very closely in future.”