We want our venues to flourish

Today’s blog is an article by Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet member for Strategic Planning and City Design, on the importance of our city’s nightlife, which was recently posted on Bristol 24/7.

Bristol is great. Our city is renowned for its incredible nightlife, which attracts international acts and audiences to experience everything the city has to offer.

Nightlife – as much as ‘day life’ – is what brings people to Bristol and what makes them want to stay.

The 4,000 people who move here from the South East every year, the students who decide to stay on here, and the born and bred Bristolians who never leave are not motivated to make Bristol home because we have a great Starbucks or a tasty Nandos.

It is because of the indescribable quality that is the very fabric of Bristol. And it’s this fabric of our city that we are absolutely committed to protecting.

Great cities evolve and Bristol is no different. My portfolio of spatial planning and city design is all about shaping the nature and degree of any change as we evolve.

But Bristol is not perfect. It is a wonderful place to live, but we also face a number of challenges as a city.

Take housing, for example:

  • 500 families endure living in temporary accommodation
  • 11,000 families on the waiting list for social housing
  • 33,500 more homes are needed to meet demand in the next 15 years

This shows building quality homes is extremely important and it is clear Bristol has a housing crisis as a result of a failure to build homes over previous decades.

This is why this mayor’s administration has made building 2,000 homes a year, at least 800 of which affordable, by 2020 a key priority.

We have begun the largest programme of council house building since the 1970s, and I am pleased we are on target to meet this pledge.

I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I wasn’t looking for land for housing. We believe underused brownfield land in Bristol should be developed before a green field is touched.

However, this is not – and should never be – something that happens at the expense of our fabric; our venues in old industrial buildings which are not listed, our tunnels, cellars, and weird and wonderful idiosyncratic spaces.

It is these spaces which make a city real and atmospheric. Wherever possible, these should be saved and enhanced, and it is essential to ensure that the vitality of the nighttime economy and what it contributes to our city’s cultural offer is preserved and supported to expand and flourish.

Our world class city deserves a world class entrance point, and the modernisation of Temple Meads is long overdue.

We believe that Motion, one of our city’s most iconic nightclubs, can continue to thrive in this context.

Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that a booming city necessarily leads to a vibrant nightlife, but this is not always the case.

There are examples of clubs and bars being forced to close in other cities when new developments are built nearby. We want to do everything in our power to ensure that this doesn’t happen in Bristol, so we introduced a planning policy called Agent of Change to protect venues.

This prioritises existing businesses over new developments. There should be no prospect of unreasonable neighbour complaints, licensing restrictions or threats of closure and acoustic and other design measures should be used to mitigate noise and other impacts on a new development.

Of course, the venue has to stick to its own conditions, but our message to bars, clubs and venues is this: treat the city with respect and we have got your back. We want our venues to flourish.

Policy is the tool for achieving this, but it has to work in practice too. I have shuffled things around in City Hall to do this – our planners and licensing colleagues are now combined with the culture team to ensure that new planning applications are assessed for their impact on nightlife.

Last year we launched Bristol @ Night – an independent advisory panel made up of key representatives from across our night time economy.

It advises myself and Bristol City Council on how to best support Bristol’s night time economy. This covers a wide range of areas including venues and licensing, safety, employment and skills and promotion.

In the coming years, it is inevitable that new venues will open and some old venues will close. New trends will come to Bristol; some will stick around and others will fade away (apparently, axe throwing is the next big trend).

If a venue wants to succeed and is committed to operating fairly and safely, then we will have your back, so that Bristol can continue to be celebrated for being a place for a great night out.

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