Late Night Liverpool: The Party’s Over?

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.”

  • SamEnriles

    Having lived both in the Elysian fields and Victoria Street area of the city centre, I feel this council proposal is a good thing. Yes living in the city brings with it the awareness that certain nights during the week, the weekend, will and should be noisey, fun and welcoming. But turning our city, especially the Victoria street area, into a 7 day a week, 10pm till 6am party zone is quite frankly a diservice to the city and its image. For a city centre to really thrive you need the accumulation of leisure and residential, with just a leisure income the centre becomes a ghost town of drunks, parties and little culture or personality. Of course all of this stems back to the introduction of the quite liberal licensing laws a few years back. Encouraged by city council bosses to bring about a more cosmopolitan and european attitude to the centre. What it has done is the complete opposite.
    Cockburn and the council safety policy is not a new thing, the council and centre bid teams have been developing and testing this for years, it was part of the original plans for 08 and also the attempt for the city to be awarded the purple flag for safe cities. I think a little bit of misrepresentation of what that scheme is in this article. It is more focused around ensuring people enjoying t he city centre have security and comfort while enjoying their night time fun. As a profile for the city and something to encourage outsiders to visit the city that is surely a great thing.

    I agree fully that the council needs to support businesses such as heebies so there is a level playing field, t he weekends should be an open all night funfilled opportunity, but during the week the all night unhealthy culture needs to be looked at. It isn’t good for the cities image, residents or consummers. I know businesses have been involved in consultations over this and I agree they should become further involved with t he debate at the start of 2012. But businesses need to notnshoegaze and think about the short term prospects, the long term potential or damage is the focus point and it needs to be considered by all involved very seriously.

  • KJ

    I actaully support this policy. It will mostly be implemented not against our great well-managed music venues or classic pubs, but the far greater legions of shady bars, otften fronts of wider criminal organisations and home to horrifc violence and often sexual attacks and intense cocaine use which contribute nothing to our culture beyond stag dos, Desperate Scousewives wannbes and keeping the A and E at the Royal busy. These if anything detract from the city’s development. The licencing issue on Heebies was based on more than a ‘spate of thefts’, the place was responsible for an inordinate amount of crime. Most of the venue closures recently have been due to poor business management and nothing to do with Council policy. If you ask the actual cultural venues, Kazimier, Mello, Shipping Forecast etc, what they think of this policy I doubt they’d be bothered as they’re rarely trouble spots. As for the money-grubbing gangster/spivs who run most of the other ‘night time venues’, I couldn’t give a toss about them. If you want less stabbings on Wood Street and split eyebrows on Mathew Street, I’d say write to the Council and support this policy, and don’t be taken in by bleading heart bar owners who want bigger extensions on their detached houses.

  • Paulj

    The whole basis of this article is flawed. The CIP does not affect existing venues, but only new licensing applications. The idea is not to stifle the development of the night time economy, but make sure that an area has a variety of venues that attract a range of people. This is so it is not dependent upon, for example, bars that just attract under 25s or students. The aim is to make the offer a bit wider including, for example, restaurants. Concert Square is a good example – a lot of older people are put off going up there at night because it has got a reputation for drunken, rowdy behaviour. By widening out the offer and attracting a wider range of people that will make it a more pleasant place and lead to a reduction in anti social behaviour. This is what is meant by interventionist – instead of the market deciding the type of venue that can open, the local authority can put in place a policy that helps steer and guide the direction of an area. It would have also been more useful to have had a conversation with Mike Cockburn, rather than quoting him selectively and deriding a statistically valid survey as “meaningless” when it is actually far better researched than this article, which has completely misunderstood what the policy means!

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com/ David

    @Paulj Paul, it’s my understanding – from looking at publicly available documents, that the policy was first suggested by Inspector Mark Morgan, Merseyside Police: the concern was that, with police cuts, Merseyside Police feared they’d not be able to commit to policing an increased number of premises. He proposed this to the council, and they approved. So it’s not about creating a ‘variety’ of places, it’s about conserving the status quo. I say at the head of the piece that it’s about ‘new’ premises. But with cumulative impacts, facts show (Westminster Council reported this to the council) it’s a case of ‘one out, one in': that every single new licence, on application, is rejected, in practice. It’s about the total amount of premises – not the ‘type’. And when places like Static Gallery are given a noise abatement order, it’s clear that it’s not just the ‘under 25 shooter bars’ that are in danger of being shut. And of course asking someone ‘how safe do you feel’ – is a meaningless question. My mum doesn’t feel safe if there’s a window open. It doesn’t mean she’s in danger of being raided. It’s nonsense.

  • KJ

    As I understand it tho, the noise abatement order is not connected to the CIP but just a usual Enviromental Health complaint which is a seperate issue? This about the amount and concentration of bars and who owns them. Something needs to be done about the violence and disorder in town. Mathew Street and Concert Sqaure are already a mess and Seel Street is heading that way due to ‘lassiez-faire’ policies. I notice that Frensons have applied for numerous licening applications all over Ropewalks even though they don’t have operators for them yet, just to try and ‘beat’ this policy. There are ruthless people behind much of this ‘development’. Many people have contributed to this policy’s development and I’m glad the Council and Police are standing up for once.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com/ David

    It’s not connected, you’re right – my fear is that it forms part of an over-arching climate, and rather unsophisticated reaction to what is, undoubtedly, a real issue. We’re as concerned about the phenomenon as anyone (http://www.sevenstreets.com/bars-and-nightlife/when-good-bars-turn-bad/) but are wary of this approach being the best way to tackle it.

  • Paulj

    @David Just to be clear, the council has not “approved” anything yet – what it agreed to do was carry out a consultation, and no decision has yet been made. On noise abatement, that is a completely separate issue which you are crowbarring in to try and suggest the council is anti the night time economy. It is also presumptious to assume that decisions made by Westminster Council will be mirrored in Liverpool. The fact is that the CIP only forms part of the consideration when a decision is made – it is not a veto on new applications being granted.

  • http://www.statictrading.com/ Paul Sullivan

    Dear all, Please Note Date Change to Noise Debate at Static Gallery will now take place 6pm, Thursday 2 February 2012 (5pm for drinks)

    Chair: Doug Clelland (Architect/Urbanist) Panelists: Daniel Hunt (Ladytron/City Centre Resdient), other panelists to be announced shortly…..

  • KJ

    @Paulj@David

    I understand your fear of the town centre becoming santised, but flat dwellers moaning about noise is very different to ruthless operators, many of them dangerous criminals, making parts of town a no go area for their own profit. M’side police have said, and I think they’re right, that Concert Square is almost laid out to cause trouble. I think what people are taking issue with is that the article seems to come down very much on one side. As has been mentioned you only quote the Council guy not interview him while you interview a former bar manager. I disagree with him, the bars are to blame, if you have decent doorstaff, like the shipping forceast, you can keep a lot of the trouble outside, but most bar owners don’t care, they’ll happily let the coked-up cretins in because they flash the cash till someone looks at them funny. It’s a complex issue, but at the moment its very hard for people to fight against dodgy establishments, the powers to stop people opening/shut down dodgy places are very weak compared to years ago. I contributed to the policy around Lark Lane which like Allerton Road was being dragged down by dodgy bars with local people largely powerless to stop it. I for one dread more bars on Seel Street, soon it will be another place anyone who isn’t looking for a fight will probably have to avoid. Mathew St MK2.

  • mike1

    @SamEnriles I totally agree. I think a city that relies on boozing seven days a week for its income is a city destined to fail. It will never attract new alternative businesses to the area and perpetuate negative stereotypes of the city.

    City centres should be mixed – residents should be allowed to live in peace, restaurants, shops and bars should be able to operate. London’s Soho has operated on this basis for years, the residents have always had a strong voice with the council, bars have always been allowed to operate alongside them, but with reasonable constraints. The party certainly isn’t over in Soho and it doesn’t have to be here.

  • David Yates

    a concerning article, the councils nannyism about sound levels has been alarming of late (re: static gallery)
    its hard to have any sympathy for heebies though, they expanded hugely in 07 and it became something of a hellhole

  • Chris

    I’ve stopped going to town regularly, most of the bars are crap once you’re over 25 with a few notable exceptions. Bars in the city seem to be owned or at least heavily influenced by organised crime. Bouncers are often clearly gangsters and the whole thing is horrible and threatening. Clubs max out profit over atmosphere, packing in as many people as is humanly possible, playing music so loud all you can do is drink. Venues have a six to eight month shelf life before they’re over run by scalls and gents toilets are primarily for doing coke. I can completely understand why the council is trying to get a handle on the whole thing. We need a vibrant night life but it actually feels like we have less choice at the moment because of the way bars are run one kind of place tends to set the tone. There are some great venues in Liverpool and I don’t think the quality will suffer as they are well run. It is the anti social bars that are run by anti social people.

  • LittleGemSmith

    @7streets what a load of shit, this city is on its arse as it is, why put people off coming to drink here?!

  • LittleGemSmith

    @7streets also, if you want to live in the city centre, close to shops resturants and bars, put up with the fucking noise or move.

  • ArtistJV

    @7streets Thanks for that article. I live above a club and love the noise, who are these flat dwelling killjoys?

  • 7streets

    @ArtistJV it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

  • med909

    @DrLegg @7streets agreed.

  • panthergrrrl

    @Jjkrazy Just read that… very interesting read (@7streets). Worrying times.

  • bob

    I think it probably always comes down to the music policys of these venues and the type of people they attract. Liverpool city centre is a bastion of shite pop chart and cringeworthy vocal funky house nonsense. This attracts coked up knobs that beat the hell out of each other. Club owners need to get a clue and steer away from the lowest-common-denominator music policys. Its a fundamental fact. Good music attracts good people.

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