We speak to Jay Taylor of the Music Venue Trust to dig deeper into the issues on noise abatement
What's your favourite Manchester band? It's pretty much a given that they have graced the stage at Night & Day on Oldham Street at some point in their career. In fact, never mind Manchester, the venue (and others like it) has given a start to tens of thousands of small bands - and hosted huge artists' intimate shows too. Night & Day's place in Manchester's music history is indisputable. So, the importance of grassroots music venues like this for a creative city like Manchester should be clear, right?
It's worth saying that most of the people in the Northern Quarter live there with a very realistic view of what that entails.
A situation that arose this week implies not everyone quite gets it. Due to repeated complaints about noise from somebody who moved into an apartment close to Night & Day during last year's lockdown, a Noise Abatement Notice (NAN) has been issued to the venue which has the potential to cause serious damage to the business. We spoke to Jay Taylor of the Music Venues Trust to get the ins and outs of the situation.
Jay Taylor, who used to work as a manager at Night & Day and now is a co-ordinator at the Music Venue Trust, is well placed to give Confidentials some insight into the issues.
"It’s worth saying I have a historic relationship with the venue. I've worked there and been a customer there - going in now to that building for most of my adult life.
"Now I’m working with the Music Venue Trust which is a charity that supports around 950 grassroots music venues across the UK, obviously we have had our work cut out over a lockdown because a lot of those places were in real trouble.
"We are stepping in to help Night & Day because they're a member of the Music Venue Alliance. It's not an isolated incident. This is happening all over the UK as we open back up after the pandemic."
Is the Council planning to shut down Night & Day?
“What's happened here is somebody who bought [an apartment] during the pandemic, when obviously the Northern Quarter had a very different soundscape to the one it has now when it’s in full throttle. The Northern Quarter came back to life. People went back out to music venues. That became an issue to the person next door."
According to the petition, which has reached almost 50,000 signatures, "As the restrictions lifted and life retuned to the surrounding Northern Quarter area, we were able to put on our first live music event. The resident visited us the next day and has since reported us to MCC a number of times. We have met the resident a number of times to explain what we do and that nothing has changed operationally to how we operated pre-lock down and the 28 years prior to that."
Jay adds some detail to the story: "The Council’s licensing enforcement officers who dropped the noise abatement order on the venue are saying that those conversations [between the venue and the resident] have reached an impasse and then essentially dropped this noise abatement order which allows them to take actions, some of which would shut a venue down.”
The Council denies that the order can be used to shut a venue down. A spokesperson for Manchester City Council said: “To be clear the Council has not threatened Night & Day with closure. A Noise Abatement Notice has been issued following complaints of excessive noise. A NAN cannot be used to close a venue, it is used to prevent continued noise nuisance.”
Jay points out that the Council can now take action such as issuing a Fixed Penalty Notice of up to £500, which for struggling venues is a lot of money, or remove equipment such as speakers, all of which would be devastating for a grassroots music venue.
Jay moves onto the fundamental point that has stirred so many to sign the petition.
Why move to the Northern Quarter if you want a quiet life?
“It's worth saying that most of the people in the Northern Quarter live there with a very realistic view of what that entails. They understand the soundscape. They understand the ups and downs of that neighbourhood. They are used to traffic noise and what happens on a Saturday night and they’ve bought into it. I lived in the city centre for 15 years, and I bought into the city centre: I bought into the noise, I bought into the people, bought into the occasional chaos and bought into the kind of strange, surprising things you never quite knew would happen. I adored it, but the moment that I realised that actually, I wanted a slightly more peaceful existence I sodded off to the suburbs.”
"I spent 15 years living on Whitworth street with a goods train screeching around in the middle of the night and people screaming shouting on Saturday I had no problem with it at all because I did due diligence. And when I moved, I moved into a different environment. I moved into a different soundtrack.
"Essentially, some people have got gotten used to the quiet during the ‘blip’. Night & Day isn't doing anything that it wasn't doing in 2019 and it's not a different volume. Its operational model has been the same for a long time. I mean, that's 30 on Saturday, yeah, it's been putting on rock and roll bands and DJ so the best part of 30 years."
It's all in the planning
"The fact that this is an issue all over the UK. We need to thoroughly police those new developments. Essentially the problem here is that that work wasn't done properly, because it wouldn't be an issue now if somebody had proofed these apartments against what was already in the area. It's a planning and development issue.
Jay explains the “agents of change” principle which, in this case, puts the onus on the developer to make sure the noise levels in the apartments are acceptable given the area that they are built in, via adjustments to the building specs: "It's incumbent on the people next door as the agent of change, to protect against something that was historically there."
“Plainly Manchester without football and music is a different city. And we should be throwing our arms around those cultural and economic businesses of huge value."
Is the Council at fault?
I point out that the council itself issued a grant to Night & Day to help them get through the pandemic, so at least some part of the council values its cultural input.
“Absolutely. I've got friends in the council, I do bits of steering group work for various parts of the council. There are people within the city who do amazing work and are hugely supportive. By and large it does support all the music venues in it and all the theatres, all the comedy clubs or galleries and all those things that are an embellishment on the city. Most people who live here are wildly supportive as evidenced by that petition - those people are just wonderful human beings. This is a licensing enforcement issue.”
The case has a historical precedent. In fact, almost exactly the same situation occurred in 2014, which ended with the complainant moving out, in not very pleasant circumstances.
“It’s happened three times in 30 years, which on the face of it is quite good. It does show that, you know, the vast majority of people are completely supportive and amazing. But each of those times it was really devastating. You know, one person can actually, properly cause real turmoil."
I mention to Jay that though it seems terrible timing as the venue celebrates such a milestone birthday, perhaps it can be seen as a reminder to everyone how much we value these independent venues that really make Manchester what it is.
“During lockdown the things that were threatening grassroots music venues - landlords still wanting rent, businesses not understanding funding processes, obviously zero income was a problem, the wellbeing issues - they were solved by the community," adds Jay, "Because people rally together. Because people are being just so extraordinarily kind and supportive. I mean, it's really humbling.”
You can sign Night & Day's petition. More information the rules around noise abatement can be found on the gov.uk website.
Statement from Manchester City Council
To be clear the Council has not threatened Night and Day with closure. A Noise Abatement Notice (NAN) has been issued following complaints of excessive noise. A NAN cannot be used to close a venue, it is used to prevent continued noise nuisance.
“Following a number of repeated complaints from residents living nearby the Council investigated allegations of excessive noise coming from Night and Day. During these visits the Council’s officers found that noise levels were causing a nuisance.
“The Council has a duty to investigate complaints of noise nuisance and where a statutory nuisance is found to have occurred, the Council is under a duty to serve an Abatement Notice on the person responsible. The Council has on multiple occasions tried to engage with this venue to try and reach a solution which works both for them, and residents. In spite of this further issues were reported, which meant the Council was left with no option other than to issue a NAN.
“The venue is entitled to appeal this Notice, and we would encourage them to work with the Council to avoid any future enforcement action.”
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