The dust has long since settled on Night & Day Cafe’s impressively orchestrated PR campaign to garner support for their plight when faced with a noise abatement notice two and a half years ago. Ostensibly, this was a matchup between, in one corner, a much-loved music venue outlasting the changing face of a gentrified area of the city and, in the other, a resident recently relocated within close proximity to the ‘11’ dial on its swanky soundsystem. As the complainants were hounded by a vigilante mob wielding vitriol via social media and poisoned pens, it ignited a debate bubbling just below the surface of the city’s rapid repopulation during the venue’s lifetime. With implications greater than the sum of the individuals directly involved, it became another case study in a growing list that led to the formation of Music Venue Trust, a UK live music network established in the same month of the aforementioned noise abatement notice.

Music Venue Trust’s campaign to see legislation protecting existing venues susceptible to similar circumstances bore fruit with this year’s amendments to General Permitted Development, a document implemented in April. Local planning authorities (LPAs) – and by extension the developers submitting plans – will now need to consider “impacts of noise from commercial premises on the intended occupiers of the development” when making decisions concerning changes of use to dwellinghouses. It draws a new line in the sand between two of the core tenets of Manchester City Council’s economic plan – rapid population growth and marketing the city as a cultural attraction. Without the latter, the former may slow, but the former may at times threaten the latter.

One positive to emerge has been recognition that victimisation of the complainants serves to scapegoat victims of the system rather than the culprits lying just out of view. Playing their part were both the developer who failed to implement ample soundproofing to compensate for existing neighbouring businesses and the Manchester City Council planning department whose approval of the apartments failed to insist on said soundproofing. But most important is the planning legislation that both were following, with developers obliged to consider expected noise impact when submitting plans and LPAs obliged to ensure this criterion is met.

However, it remains unsatisfactory even with this year’s improvements. The legislative addition that Music Venue Trust still yearns is an Agents of Change Principle, which would hold the developer responsible for ongoing effects on occupiers resulting from their residential development, such as implementation of soundproofing as required. Although potentially ideal for existing music venues in areas of rapid regeneration, this type of legislation is seemingly seen as contrary to the spirit of the Localism Act 2011, which pledged to speed up development by cutting red tape and committing LPAs to “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.

With Manchester’s rate of population growth over the past 15 years second only to London, the scenario is likely to be played on repeat for years to come. The Ordsall Chord development across part of Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) has proven that not even the city’s larger institutions are untouchable. Looking further afield, cities in other countries have trialled innovative strategies to balance the demands of high population density and cultural attractions. Amsterdam’s first ever elected night mayor, Mirik Milan, has been dreaming of a cityscape whose residential zones remain untainted by late-night loudmouths under the influence and another 24-hour area where raucous revelry alongside restaurants and other attractions can continue with neither sleep nor complaint. One tactic has been to rehouse any particularly noisy events and super clubs to sites outside the city perimeter, although this is akin to brushing the issue under the carpet, but this means rehousing existing businesses. Some are naturally more open to adopting a state of flux than others, such as Warehouse Project when it was based at Victoria Warehouse. For venues like Night & Day, this solution is unlikely to garner a positive reaction.

The night mayor job role has appealed beyond its endless punning capacity, with Paris, Zurich and Toulouse all electing representatives, and London and Berlin considering following suit. Amsterdam even hosted the inaugural Night Mayor Summit in April, featuring keynote speakers and various knowledgeable voices on the benefits and challenges of the night-time economy. For Manchester, still preparing for electing a mayor of any description with next year’s vote in mind, we need to move one step at a time. Whoever it is will undoubtedly be operating in line with the city’s growth agenda, which is another topic for another time, but how this progresses and how it affects existing culture – both daytime and night-time – are continuing questions to answer.

Ian Pennington