Rusholme nightclub row rages on as council blames management for negligence

Bosses behind the Antwerp Mansion venue have accused Manchester City Council of a plot to 'remove it from existence', following the issue of a closure notice.

In an announcement released via Facebook on Monday 26 February, the cult Rusholme nightclub - located in a dilapidated Victorian mansion from 1840 - said the club will be 'forced to close next month' on the order of the planning department.

According to the club, in September 2017, the council informed them that the venue was in breach of planning legislation and was only permitted to operate as a private member's club until 11pm, despite operating as a nightclub since 2011.

"Their claims on crime and noise are completely misleading"

During the lengthy statement, the club accuse the council of 'using every department available to gather evidence', including newly lodged noise complaints, repeated visits from licensing officers and inflated crime statistics.

The venue then goes on to criticise the police, who they say 'joked around' with two mobile phone thieves apprehended by security staff, before they were 'sent on their way without arrest or prosecution'. (You can read the statement in full at the bottom.)

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Antwerp Mansion reopened as a music events space in 2011 - but the council say it has been 'badly managed'

The council, however, tell a different story.

Speaking to Confidential, Rusholme ward councillor, Rabnawaz Akbar, said Antwerp Mansion's management had allowed the venue and the situation to deteriorate to an untenable level.

He said: "In 2011, Andrew Barnfield (the club's owner) came to us with plans to utilise the building and make it a hub of the community. He said there'd be art and photography classes during the day and a place for the alternative music scene at night."

"He told us any income made would be used to refurbish the building, on the inside and outside. We councillors agreed because it seemed like a good idea and we wanted to add to the city's musical heritage."

"But in reality it has just become a nightclub and those initial proposals have not been fulfilled. Over time the number of people attending late-night events has increased, noise levels have increased, crime has increased and litter has increased - at one point there were mountains of rubbish at the back of the venue, it became an environmental hazard."

"I think the venue became too successful, they just weren't able to manage it"

When challenged over the club's assertion that there had been 'no noise complaints in over two years', Councillor Akbar told us "people have been objecting from day one".

He said: "There has been music 'til 4.30am on some nights. Residents are on the front line and are losing sleep. Bookings at the nearby Victoria Park Hotel have decreased at weekends because of the noise. On top of that is the planning breach, they've never applied for nightclub permission."

"It is sad to see it go," he continued. "I have kids at university and it's not fair on the local students. But the management have let them down. It is not as if we have not been trying to work with them over the years. 

"I think the venue became too successful, they just weren't able to manage it."

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Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar (pictured second left with former Labour leader Ed Miliband) says residents have been 'objecting from day one'

Councillor Akbar's comments were echoed by fellow councillor and Manchester City Council's executive member for environment, Angeliki Stogia, who said the club had not been 'operating appropriately'. 

She told Confidential: "This will be good news for local residents who have put up with significant noise, violence and other anti-social behaviour brought to their neighbourhood because of the Antwerp Mansion venue. 

"Our decision has been scrutinised and upheld by an independent planning inspector"

“We want to encourage business in Manchester and we welcome multi-use and diverse venues in our neighbourhoods, but there has to be a balance so it works with the community, not against it.

"Any suggestion by the club that this decision is about anything other than the fact that they were not operating appropriately is simply untrue. Our decision has been scrutinised and upheld by an independent planning inspector appointed by the Government, who rejected Antwerp Mansion's appeal."

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The cult Rusholme club will be forced to close in March

"When the enforcement notice was served they went on a seven month evidence gathering spree..."

Despite the decision of the independent, government-appointed planning inspectorate, Antwerp Mansion manager Ben Hourahine insists that the council have employed 'dirty tactics'.

"The council's licensing and planning officers have behaved like something out of a Netflix series," he said. "If the club was such a nuisance they would have used proper channels to haul us in and review our license. But the issue for them there would be to present their evidence to a panel of licensing councillors, who would have seen it as a load of rubbish."

"Instead they have used dirty tactics and a back-alley through planning to get their way," he continued. "Their claims on crime and noise are completely misleading. When the enforcement notice was served they went on a seven month evidence gathering spree to make the club look like it was being managed far worse than it was to support their weak case for closure."

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Cllr Akbar: "There were mountains of rubbish at the back of the venue"

When questioned over residential complaints, Hourahine said the club had met a 'small group' of residents and addressed any issues. "We always had an open door with them," says Hourahine, "they had a direct link to the club."

Meanwhile, a petition to save the venue has reached over 13,000 signatures. When asked whether the petition could make a difference, Councillor Akbar said "We are always willing to listen, but as far as I know the process has been exhausted."

Antwerp Mansion is due to close next month.

Antwerp Mansion statement in full (via Facebook, 26/02/18):

'Antwerp Mansion will be forced to close next month on the orders of Manchester City Council Planning Department. Unlike the scenarios we have recently seen in the media with clubs such as Fabric & the Rainbow venues, there has been no single incident that has led to this closure and our premises license remains fully intact. 

'In September of last year Antwerp Mansion was served with an enforcement notice, after Manchester City Council (MCC) were informed of unclear planning permissions that dated back to the 1920’s. The Council’s view was that Antwerp Mansion only had permission to operate as a private member’s club, not as a nightclub despite the fact that it had successfully been run as one for approximately 7 years. We had no warning of this and no one from the Council made any attempt to speak to us. MCC served an enforcement notice in the summer (a period in which we are closed) that Antwerp Mansion must revert back to this use within 28 days with a closing time of 11pm. Antwerp Mansion had the right to appeal this notice, which then triggered a legal battle that we have been fighting for the past 7 months. We did not make public the threat of closure or this enforcement notice during the appeal process. 

'Our reasoning behind this was we did not feel the need to railroad MCC’s decision with a public campaign, and that since the venue was so well run there would be no issue with us continuing to operate as a nightclub. During the appeal process both sides submitted evidence for and against the venue to continue as a nightclub. At this point MCC’s planning department started used every department available to them to gather evidence to support what we considered to be their very weak case.

'Despite no noise complaints in over two years, all of a sudden one was made and used in evidence against us. Licensing officers were regularly sent sometimes 4 or 5 nights a week on evidence gathering trips to inspect the building. Antwerp Mansion received letters from MCC licensing stating that we were in breach of multiple licensing conditions to our complete disbelief. On one occasion, their claims were so wrong we lodged a formal complaint. Amongst their claims this time MCC Licensing officers said they had witnessed us breaching our closing time of 3am. Every customer who has ever been to Antwerp knows that just before 3am on the dot the music is cut and everyone begins to leave. We offered CCTV evidence to MSC licensing dept. to prove this claim was untrue but they conducted an internal investigation without the CCTV and dismissed our complaints out of hand. 

'Antwerp Mansion was served a noise abatement order for a nuisance for “chatter” on a night where there was terrible weather with hardly any customers in the smoking area. The officers also did not approach the venue on the night the order was served to question us, which is far from normal procedure if a complaint is lodged, they would normally visit and ask us to deal with such a problem. Noise abatement orders are subjective, if the council believe you are guilty, you are guilty and they need no evidence to support this. There is also no process of appeal, only on the grounds of wrongful service. 

'On the subject of noise, all the local residents have access to a direct mobile number to the club. This number was only ever called by one person on a regular basis, who we worked with to successfully rectify the noise issue. All this evidence was gathered AFTER the notice had been served in order to swing the decision in MCC’s favour. 

'The local authorities also want Antwerp Mansion removed from existence as it has been labelled a crime hotspot. The majority of the crime figures they list are as a result of mobile phone thefts. The vast majority of phones which are listed as stolen for insurance purposes are immediately handed in to lost property by our staff or other customers, and are then promptly returned to the owners. However, the Police do not keep records of any phones that are returned so the statistics are meaningless. 

'On one occasion however after our own security operation the Antwerp Mansion security team successfully caught and apprehended two males with a number of phones that clearly did not belong to them in their possession. Greater Manchester Police took over an hour to arrive, and when they eventually did the officers then proceeded to joke around with the two males and send them on their way without any kind of arrest or prosecution. This lack of action was truly shocking for our security team who had worked so hard to catch these individuals and hand them in to the authorities only to have those authorities release the thieves back into the public. Meanwhile, the number of muggings, burglaries and other violent crimes in the Fallowfield area are increasing at an aggressive rate. Antwerp Mansion is not a crime hotspot and we will not be blamed for students being attacked. It is the responsibility of the local authorities to look after its citizens at night. 

'Antwerp Mansion has always wanted to keep a dialogue going with MCC should any issues arise and we have tried to speak to them to say that we would work with them co-operatively with any conditions they would deem necessary for our continued operation. However, our offer has fallen on deaf ears. They are determined to remove us from existence and seem to have a plan to destroy all nightlife that is not in the city centre. 

'What happens next? A Manchester City Council planning officer has already told us that they are aware that the closure of Antwerp Mansion will lead to an increased number of students spending their nights out in Fallowfield venues. Therefore, they have also decided to enforce and issue notices to the business owners there. Multiple bars including Cubo, Font, Revolution and many others face the same fate in a few months. With the lack of regulated venues this will inevitably lead to increased illegal house parties and raves in the South Manchester area. Further down the line it is Manchester City Council’s policy to use the police and private security forces to make arrests and seize private equipment to prevent the house parties from happening. We must stand up and tell them enough is enough. Antwerp Mansion is the first place they have targeted but it will not be the last.

'We think it is time now that we spoke directly to the local politicians. It is they who set the rules that the Officers of the Council must work within. It is also they who have the power to intervene and come up with a workable solution to avoid this closure. In the past they have given us many extensions to our hours as we have behaved as a responsible nightclub. We have even been praised by them for improving the City’s diverse night-time economy. We will be contacting them ourselves but in the meantime we would recommend that you do too. We are local residents too just like you and these people should represent ALL our views not just those of a tiny minority. That’s democracy.

'If you would like to add your voice to ours please sign this petition to have our case bought back to Manchester City Council.…