4am licence, 365 days a year for events for which 'it's naturally difficult to give a definitive and exhaustive list'

9 minute read

Residents in the south west of the city centre, Castlefield and St John's, are unhappy about the alcohol licence awarded on Monday 16 January to Factory International which opens this summer. 

Factory International don’t know how it might be used but are saying, in effect, don’t worry, we’re going to be nice

Councillor Joan Davies represents the ward in this part of the city and lives there too. She and residents are concerned about the very loose terms of the licence that’s been granted.

She says: “There's a sizable long-term city centre population with a high percentage of arts enthusiasts living within not much more than a 10-minute walk from Factory International. We’re looking forward to having ‘Original Modern’ events on our doorstep, but a licence application to sell alcohol until 4am inside the building, a potential 365 days a year, and to hold outside events with an undefined capacity “below 2000” until 2am for 10% of the year is concerning. That concern deepens when it becomes apparent that in this 7,000-capacity venue there might be an unknown number of events of unknown types with unknown finish times. Some local residents are therefore, unsurprisingly, seeking tighter controls.”

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Low Kee Hong (Creative Director) and Ellen Van Loon (Factory International architect) lead a tour of Factory International I Image: Confidentials

Cllr Davies continues: “Part of Manchester’s vision is to be a liveable city: while that includes an expanded cultural offering it also means people should be able to sleep and enjoy their homes in comfort. This includes the city centre, where residents are already tolerant and expect a degree of disturbance. In Castlefield we are used to road closures, noisy bar and restaurant customers and large capacity gigs at Castlefield Bowl.

“All people want, given the location of Factory International, is some clarity and control. It would be good to have increased respect for neighbours not just the current ‘wait and see’ attitude of the awarded licence.”

That is the nub of the problem and one that Factory International admits. The building is being promoted as a whole new type of cultural venue. The problem is the venue operators and organisers are not sure how the building and its event programme will develop and what time shows might run to. This level of uncertainty is a highly unusual with a £210.8m project. 

There’s high risk implicit in every part of this ‘build it and they will come’ experiment so Factory International are hedging their bets on what form the art and entertainment will take. What is clear they will have to make sure they will generate large amounts of cash. 

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Factory International gains a licence to perform late Image: Confidentials

The Venue Operations Programme Manager for Factory International is Dean Meehan and he puts the arguments for the late-licence. 

In his witness statement to the licensing committee he writes: “(Factory International will be) a global destination for arts, music and culture. It will commission and present a year-round programme. There will be everything from theatre to music to installations and digital commissions. Our vision is that the venue continues to adapt, change and remain at the cutting edge of arts and culture for years to come.”

His statement goes on to say.

“We need a licence that provides for all sorts of different events and eventualities. I understand that the later hours have caused concern to local residents, and that they query what sorts of activities might be taking place within the premises in the early hours of the morning.

“As a result of the innovative nature of the venue and the ambition to attract unique and new performances throughout the life of the licence, it is naturally difficult to give a definitive and exhaustive list.”

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These halls will this year be filled with light and art but never be a 'commercial gig or nightclub venue' Image: Confidentials

Meehan then attempts to illustrate what type of activities which might require late licences.

“The ‘You, Me and the Balloons’ exhibition (30 June-28 August) would, we anticipate, be sufficiently popular to sell tickets 24/7, and this would be our intention if we were able to do so. We might wish to stream the world premiere of a live performance, say a theatre performance, which is premiering abroad and would therefore be shown during the night in the UK. 

"We might have ‘durational’ theatre or film performances which run 24/7; something like Christian Marclay’s ‘The Clock’ which showed at Tate Modern in 2019 and was a 24-hour long film montage that patrons could visit at any time of the day. 

"We might host some private events, like corporate dinners or awards ceremonies which may run into the early hours. We might have some performances or gigs which finish at 11pm or so, but where the artist and an exclusive group stay at the venue for an ‘afterparty’. We also might have some live gigs or DJ events which run into the early hours of the morning.”

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You, Me and the Balloons from Yayoi Kusama Image: Confidentials

Meehan goes on to reveal more of the programming policy and the reasons for requiring such extensive licensed hours.

“We would by no means be intending to trade 24/7 all the time, but there are sufficient examples of the types of occasion when we might do so that we consider it necessary to have a flexible licence which allows us to accommodate this. I would wish to emphasise that there would be no intention to have any of the above type of event dominate our schedule. The venue would not become solely a late-night music venue. The cornerstone of Factory International and its programming will always be variety and diversity.

“Indeed, this is a necessity. Factory International and Manchester International Festival are National Portfolio Organisations of Arts Council England, who provide a substantial proportion of our annual funding to support a diverse, eclectic and culturally led programme. This funding is conditional on presenting a rich diversity of artistically led programming, and therefore we would not receive this funding if we operated as a predominately commercial gig or nightclub venue.”

The public realm at Factory International can have up to 2,000 people partying Image: Paul Karalius

That last point should be of some comfort to concerned residents in St John’s and Castlefield. Others will argue if you live in the city centre don’t moan about it being lively. That would be false in this case. Concerned residents aren’t being killjoy moaning minnies, they would just like some clarity over what to expect in terms of the use of that late licence.

Therein lies the problem. Factory International don’t know how it might be used as yet and are saying, in effect, don’t worry, we’re going to be nice. As part of the licence given to Factory International a Residents' Forum is to be set up to provide a handy communications channel. 

That’s the best the residents are going to get. There’s going to have to be a lot of trust in this relationship. Some of the aggro will be easy to sidestep. If there’s an 8,450-capacity gig in Castlefield Bowl and 7,000 at Factory International things could get messy or raucous as people stream away. Common sense will have to prevail to ensure such circumstances don’t arise. 

As one resident pointed out during one of the meetings it is shame there is effectively no public transport anywhere close to Factory International with tram and train stations some distance away through residential streets. Some aspects of this 'pioneering project' don't seem to have been really thought through in the process of delivering Factory International. 

It is clear everybody wants Factory International to be a beacon of Manchester culture so let's hope a spirit of compromise and live and let live can reign in southwest central Manchester. The problem is, given the uncertainty over programming, it's anybody's guess how things will develop until there's been a year or so of operation. Cross your fingers, time. 

Read next: Myths of Manchester: Part Two

Read again: Read all about it: House of Books and Friends

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