The Evening & Night Time Economies in Central London – The Residents Perspective
Many people present the Night Time Economy as a conflict between residents and businesses but the truth is much more nuanced than this.
Residents often view those who wish to encourage the “Night Time Economy” as wanting to have bars open all night in which people drink large amounts of alcohol. These people then cause havoc in the surrounding area as they go home in the early hours of the morning. This is sometimes, but not always, a true picture of the situation. There are though late night venues where very few issues have arisen: they tend to be ‘activity’ rather than alcohol driven. Examples are Ronnie Scott’s jazz venue, the famous Wag Club, a music mecca for young people over many years, the old Marquee Club, and the 100 Club. Whilst serving alcohol until the early hours the (sometimes) young people who used and use such venues do so for the music offer and not just to consume alcohol.
On the other hand proponents of the night time economy sometimes portray residents as killjoys, people who think that the heart of London should be quiet by 9pm and who want to close every bar or nightclub in the area and will fight to the death to stop any more of them opening.
Neither of these stereotypes is true.
What is called the “Night Time Economy” does not take place just, or even mainly, at night (i.e. after 11pm). Much of the activity is taking place in the evening period. This is sometimes called the leisure economy but we would describe it as the evening economy. Whilst this can involve drinking this is a diverse economy that includes eating, dancing, theatre, cinema, music, galleries and other cultural activities. Most residents are willing participants in this economy. Those who have a choice of where they live choose to live in the area at least in part because it is a vibrant place during the day and evening period because, not in spite of, the leisure businesses which surround us. The issues we have are in the true night time period (after 11pm and particularly from midnight onwards) when we would like to be sleeping. It is also not (usually) what happens inside the venues which is a concern to us (although it may be to the Police and others). Most are well designed to avoid the activities taking place inside disturbing those of us who live around them. It is what happens on the street which causes the problem.
This is not a new issue. The GLA itself published a report in June 2002 (15 years ago) entitled “Late-Night London: Planning and Managing the Late-Night Economy”. This report used Covent Garden as one its case studies. A copy of the report can be found at this link. The situation is the same now as it was then but with many more premises operating in the night time economy.
During the evening the streets of the West End are busy with people moving to, between and from various parts of the night-time economy. They are a diverse group of all ages and from all walks of life. Some are noisy and boisterous, some are quiet and reserved. Some are drunk but many are sober. They have been for a drink after work, perhaps before a film, or are going to the theatre or to dinner, or later are going to go and find somewhere to have a drink before they go home.
Once it gets past 11pm the situation changes. The age range becomes far narrower, some people are noisier and many have become tipsy or worse. It may be undiplomatic to say that the MPS long ago lost control of the use of a variety of drugs in many West End Clubs, but one must be realistic. They are generally less well behaved. Fights break out; people urinate in the street and in doorways. Their presence also attracts others who come to take advantage of them and they can become victims of crime. Theft, assault, drug dealing all seem to increase during this period. Not everyone is like this, but the proportion who behave in this way is far higher than earlier in the evening. It is this behavior, and the sheer numbers on the streets in parts of the West End which causes problems for residents.
However this is not just a problem for residents. The change in atmosphere on the streets also deters the diverse visitors from the earlier part of the evening from staying out late. They feel less welcome and less safe so they go home. The main theatre groups have pointed out in the past that their customers were put off from post theatre dining because of the atmosphere of the West End late at night.
Encouraging the night-time economy is therefore not simply a case of allowing places to stay open later. We need to be in control of the streets. The sort of unacceptable behaviour which we see around the West End after 11pm may only be perpetrated by a minority of people but it still unacceptable and needs to be regarded and treated as such. Until this happens we will never have a successful, vibrant and diverse late night economy. This is not just because residents oppose it (although they will) but also because it deters the very customers needed to make it profitable.
One of the main areas which residents can influence what happens in the night time economy around them is through the Licensing process. We try to take a nuanced approach to this. This means that we take a different approach to licensing applications depending on the nature of the business involved, the hours to which it wishes to operate and the specific area in which it is situated, especially when this is an area of cumulative impact. Our approach to these is as follows.
• We consider the type of operation, the hours proposed, the location and the conditions offered by the applicant;
• We consider the likely impact on local residents based on our experience of similar operations and see if there are restrictions or conditions we could request which would reduce the impact;
• We ask the applicant to amend the application appropriately. Usually they will agree to at least some of the requested changes. Anything we can’t agree on we then leave for the respective Licensing Committees…
Clearly by following this approach we will tend to ask Councils to restrict premises that wish to open late (e.g. 00:00 or later) especially when they are focused on alcohol and/or are likely to attract a customer group which is likely to behave in a boisterous way when they leave. Our experience says that these are the biggest source of negative impact from the night time economy.
In our view all of the stakeholders involved in the night time economy need to work together to take back control of the streets at night. If we can have an impact on the behaviour of people on the street we can get into a virtuous circle of having more people using the night-time economy, and hence more employment and economic activity, whilst at the same time significantly reducing the negative impact associated with it. There are a number of building blocks to this.
Focus on the right things
The night-time economy is made up of an evening economy and a late night economy. The evening economy works reasonable well and coexists with the residents. Such issues as there are can usually be managed by working together.
It is the late night economy which causes the larger problem. This is, as discussed above, a more difficult problem to address. Whilst the Vision document refers to different aspects of the “Night time” it does not seem to distinguish between the evening and late night in terms of problems and solution. There needs to be a clearer distinction. An approach designed to expand the evening economy will be very different from one intended to grow the late night economy.
It would be helpful if everyone involved could agree that however the night time economy develops there needs to be a broad recognition that residents need have a “quiet period” in which to sleep. As premises stay open later the noise generated on the streets by their clients runs until later in the evening. In some parts of the West End there are more people on the street at 2am than at 2pm. This is one of the major reasons why residents object to late licences. If everyone accepted this need and focused on how to achieve it would help focus our efforts. This is also one of the reasons that the Licensing Act includes the concept of areas of cumulative impact’
Deal with behaviour
In the late night economy the problem is the behaviour of a substantial minority of the people who use it. Unless this type of behaviour becomes unacceptable it will continue. The industry needs to find ways to deal robustly with those who give it a bad name. Until then it will continue to face resistance from residents, Councils and the Police who have to deal with the consequences.
The Vision notes that “The night time economy suffers by being linked with antisocial behaviour.” This is absolutely true. The same section then goes on to say that “But we should also recognise that crime is no more prevalent at night than it is in the day.” This may be correct but is not relevant to the previous point. All crime is anti-social but not all anti-social behaviour is a crime which will show up in crime statistics. It is the anti-social behaviour which needs to be addressed.
In the West End a variety of approaches have been tried which are intended to “nudge” people into behaving themselves. However until there are real consequences for bad behaviour, and a good chance that people will suffer them (meaning that they are penalized in some way), it will continue to occur.
Have the right resources
One of the basic issues with the late night time economy is that the businesses which gain a financial benefit do not pay directly to manage the consequences of it on the wider area. We believe that in order to make the appropriate resources available this needs to change. The Late Night Levy is available to Councils to assist but this is a very blunt instrument and has a number of unintended consequences. We believe that some changes in the design of the levy mechanism could provide a more targeted “Polluter Pays” approach to increasing the resources available and we believe the GLA should lobby the Government on this.
One of the ways of dealing with the issues in the (late) night time economy is to have people on the street that can intervene. The Police would be the obvious group to do this but do not have the resources to do it. There are however hundreds if not thousands of security staff employed by venues in the West End every evening, especially at the weekend. If only a small proportion of these were patrolling the streets close to their venues rather than manning doors they might be able to make a difference by encouraging better behaviour. They could perhaps be given additional powers under the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme (CSAS) in order to be able to do more in this area.
We have discussed this approach with operators on a number of occasions and a frequent response is that it is too dangerous for their staff to intervene with drunken people on the street. However if this is indeed the case is it any surprise that residents wish to reduce the number of drunk people that there currently are?
We think that business operating in the late night economy can do a much better job of working together with each other, the Police, Councils and residents to help us take back control of the streets late at night.
Manage (and expand) the geographic area of the night time economy
Our view is that the late night time economy in London is too focused on the West End. This drives up the cost of operating there and also increases its negative impact. The night tube makes other parts of London more accessible at night and we believe that a clear focus should be on encourage other areas to develop their own night time economies, both evening and late night. We are pleased that this is recognised by the Vision document in Principle 8 “Be strategically located across London to promote opportunity and minimise impact”. This will reduce the pressure on the West End and make it a more attractive place to visit. If properly planned and managed new night-time economy areas could develop without the conflicts between residents and businesses which have developed in the West End. The 2002 GLA report suggests developing Entertainment Management Zones outside the West End and developing the night time economy in these areas. This still seems to be a reasonable approach.
Help residents groups to be involved with the NTE Commission
Unlike those representing the industry and the Statutory Authorities groups representing residents are not involved in the process of developing policy to develop the Night Time Economy. We are disappointed that there does not seem to be anyone directly representing the views of residents on the Commission As a result we find it difficult to engage with all of the other stakeholders in a useful way. Instead we are reactive, dealing with applications and issues as they come up and not taking a long term view. Anything that the GLA can do to support the process of resident groups working together and also engaging with the Commission would be very helpful.
Provide residents with legal help
Residents often feel powerless to deal with issues around them because they lack the knowledge of what is possible. Westminster Council’s approach to this has been to fund the Citizen’s Advice Bureau to provide a lawyer who can support residents both in the application process and in discussing possible reviews. This helps residents to feel they have the ability to influence the result and so they can engage in the process rather than just saying no, or complaining about it afterwards. If the GLA is able to provide funding to widen this support to other Boroughs we believe that it will help residents to engage constructively with businesses in the night time economy, rather than just be fearful of the risks to their quality of life. This will also be helpful in the process of implementing Principle 8.
We are sure that you will not agree with all of these points but we believe they can be a useful starting point for a discussion. The West End Community Network would welcome the opportunity to meet with the Night Time Commission and explore them in more detail.