Vague ramblings

Nightlife and Nimbys: Biting the hand that bites the hand that feeds

Posted in Irritants, Urbanism by Ian Cundell on 6 March, 2014

In the interest of recycling, here is a simple – but I think devastatingly effective – reform of the planning system, proposed 4 years ago on UK Regeneration, that would do more to revitalise tired town centres than any other change. Frankly, I’m amazed it hasn’t been taken up yet.

Biting the hand that bites the hand that feeds

I’m going to propose a change to planning regulations that, I am quietly confident, will have a truly beneficial impact on the vibrancy of town centres.

It isn’t a huge change, and it is a tad counter-intuitive, so bear with me while I explain.

The idea rests on a simple posit: that people (that is, resident populations) are bad for the vibrancy of town centres. I know, I know. Bear with me.

There are exceptions, of course, but generally these are close to the centres of large cities – Clerkenwell springs to mind. But there is a reason for these exceptions: put simply, no-one in their right mind would expect peace and quiet in Clerkenwell, with the result that Clerkenwell and Holborn are a lot livelier than when I was at LSE.

The problem is that many people look for a little bit of that “metropolitan” lifestyle, without that pesky “metropolitan price tag” – and more to the point without the presence of advertising executives carousing at all hours.

So instead of going to Clerkenwell, they go to a suburb and or small town centre near you, hoping to have their cake and eat it.

The trouble with town centres is that they tend to have pubs and restaurants and even the odd late store. So those moving into their bijou townhouse/ apartments/ lofts discover that town centre living is not always conducive to a good night’s sleep.

So when one of the pubs tries to – oooh, I dunno – stay in business by having music nights or longer hours or new kitchens built, or anything that might pull more customers through the doors, guess who objects?

It turns out that “vibrancy” is not so neat after all.

So here is my proposed draft of the Dealing With NIMBY Objections (Pubs and Miscellaneous Noisy Stuff) Order, 2010. It will read, in its entirety:

Objections from residents to alterations of licensing and related terms affecting town centre pubs and similar business shall always be met with the following notice: “You moved in next to a pub. What the hell did you expect?”.

Once firmly in place, this regulation should drive the sleepers out to Acacia Avenue where they belong, and leave town centres to those who want to have fun.

I’m quite serious about this: I know of one pub, the manager of which has been driven to her wit’s end by a stroppy neighbour for whom no amount of bending over backwards is good enough. The neighbour is new, the pub at least 400 years old. Town centres are supposed to be noisy and messy. That’s what “vibrancy” means.

I’m aware that the British (especially the English) have a problem with responsible drinking. But it is not like this is new: Rotterdam dock-masters 400 years ago wrote of their dread of English ships coming in.

That problem won’t be solved by shoving it somewhere else – and trying to do so strangles town centres. 

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