Protecting Bristol's music scene

March 06 2020
Protecting Bristol's music scene

Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy writes for the Voice

IT’S the kind of sentence that invariably sounds like a slightly embarrassing cliché coming from a politician, but music has always been an incredibly important part of my life. And one of the things I love most about Bristol is its diverse music scene. I know that’s something I share with many of my constituents.

Relative to its population, Bristol punches well above its weight in terms of musical talent. From Portishead to Roni Size to more recent products like IDLES, Bristol has a reputation as a hotbed of cultural talent. And one of the reasons for that is our wealth of independent venues, with time and space for new acts to show what they can do and build a following of fans.

As a patron of the Music Venue Trust, I know all too well how venues like Thekla, the Exchange and the Fleece have come under threat from rapid development and its associated issues. We’ve seen iconic spots like the Surrey Vaults close because of noise complaints from new-build luxury apartments. That's why I’m so proud to have been part of the successful campaign to have the “agent of change principle” written into the National Planning Framework, meaning that responsibility now lies with housing developers – and not existing music venues – to ensure residents are protected from outside noise through proper soundproofing.

I was also glad that last month the Government finally heeded our call to reduce business rates for small and medium venues across the country, a move that the Music Venue Trust estimates will save each site an average of £7,500 a year, and release more than £1.7 million back into the grassroots live music sector.

But there is still more to be done to protect Bristol’s iconic music scene. In recognition of this, Bristol City Council – led by cabinet member for culture and St George councillor Nicola Beech – has pioneered an advisory panel with responsibility for protecting and developing Bristol’s night time economy. It's now just over a year since the panel was formed, and in early February representatives of various clubs and bars across the city came together with organisations such as Bristol Drugs Project and Save Bristol Nightlife to celebrate all that's been achieved so far.

Our independent venues and wider night time economy aren’t just important for cultural reasons, they’re also an important source of jobs in Bristol and a way to attract visitors to our city and boost our economy. It’s more important than ever that we protect these unique spaces – and make sure they are accessible and welcoming for everyone. I’m confident that with the vision and support of Marvin Rees as our Mayor, and Bristol Council cabinet members like Nicola Beech, who truly understand the unique importance of Bristol’s music scene, there is a bright future for one of our city’s greatest assets.