Mayor Sadiq Khan has appointed US comedienne Amy Lamé to be the capital’s first “night czar”. The role is designed to champion the capital’s night time economy and cultural scene.
The appointment follows similar roles established in cities including Amsterdam, Berlin and San Francisco, and was a manifesto promise from Khan. Lamé was chosen after more than 100 applicants pitched for the role.
Lamé will be required to interject in what appears to be a growing number of battles between residents, developers and night time businesses in the capital. Local communities often object to late night businesses being allowed near their homes, while there have been cases where residential developers pressure existing night time businesses to restrict their operations – despite being in the neighbourhood first.
In May this year, Peabody withdrew plans for a 500 home development on the Bermondsey Triangle site, after finding the need to accommodate the nearby Ministry of Sound nightclub too problematic. Peabody’s planning consultants DP9 blamed “technical complexities relating to acoustic requirements” as one reason for the withdrawal of the proposals.
The mayor commented: “London is now the biggest city in the world to appoint a Night Czar, and over the coming weeks I’ll be going even further and extending the work of the Night Time Commission. I look forward to appointing a new chair of the Commission to work with Amy to ensure London thrives as a 24-hour-city.”
“The recent closure of the world-famous nightclub Fabric and the threats facing other venues across the capital show why Amy will be a much-needed ambassador for the city after dark.” [The Farringdon club was forced to shut in September amid allegations of drug use on the premises, and is appealing the decision]
“Amy’s proven track-record of helping save venues, her first-hand experience of the industry over the last two decades as well as her love for London and its nightlife are what make her such a great candidate for the role. She is in an ideal position to work together with venues, authorities, developers and revellers enjoying a night out to solve difficult issues and get new and creative projects going.”
The capital’s night time economy was reckoned to be worth £26.3billion in 2014, and should have been given a boost by the recent extension of Underground train running to 24 hour operation on some lines. However, the London First report also suggested that London has lost half of its nightclubs and more than 40% of its music venues in the last five years.
Recently, LPA reported on a wrangle at the Curzon cinema in Mayfair, where residential conversion on upper floors of the has resulted in pressure on the cinema operators to improve soundproofing. A new “agent of change” principle aims to put the onus back on developers to manage any measures necessary, in order to enable incumbents to continue their use without disturbance.
With the right measures in place, London’s night time economy has the potential for major expansion in scope, according to Rohan Silva, founder of innovative workspace Second Home. Speaking recently, he commented in the Guardian: “There have been profound shifts in the way we work, freeing people from the tyranny of nine to five. It’s creating more expectation that cities like London should cater for different lifestyles. By the end of 2018, we’re expecting there to be more freelancers and self-employed than there are people working in the public sector.”
“What’s frustrating about the UK is that we don’t actually see that the night-time economy helps make places more attractive to a highly educated, very mobile, creative workforce that creates a huge number of new jobs and businesses wherever they choose to go.”
Lamé is no stranger to political roles in London. Previously mayoress of Camden from 2010 to 2011, she is also a key player in RVT Future, a community group campaigning to preserve the Royal Vauxhall Tavern as a club venue, where she hosts a weekly performance. She has said one of her first steps will be to hold a series of “night surgeries” to speak directly to businesses and the public.
Said Lamé: “For too long, the capital’s night-time industry has been under pressure – music venues and nightclubs in particular are closing at an alarming rate.”
“With the advent of the Night Tube, and the Mayor’s commitment to protect iconic venues across the city, I’m confident that I can inspire a positive change in the way people think about the night time economy. I look forward to bringing together local authorities, the police, Transport for London and many other people from across the night time industries to transform London into a truly 24-hour city.”
LPA Perspective: There may be talk of culture in this appointment, but the danger is that Lame becomes forced to interject in a series of battles involving arguments about noise, nuisance, drugs and shootings.
London appears to be becoming more protectionist about uses – and about what happens down the road. And the encouragement to get involved with neighbourhood plans, and pressure to build more densely, will only increase the volume of objections against new developments. Quite rightly, planning and licencing committees in the boroughs take a tough line on new establishments; meanwhile, those venues already operating continue to come under pressure from developers, as the capital’s housing shortage shows no sign of being solved.
Planning has a clear role to play here, setting out areas where uses can work together, without upsetting one another. Former City of London chief planner Peter Rees was fond of pointing out that the growth of the night time economy in the Square Mile worked fine, since there are precious few residents, and offices have closed before the clubs crank up the volume.