A controversial council policy will see new Hackney venues face an 11pm curfew on weekdays. Kate Lloyd and Isabelle Aron ask three members of the nightlife community what it means for the future
On July 18 Hackney Council approved controversial new plans for nightlife in the borough. The policy? A curfew for all new venues of 11pm on weekdays and midnight at the weekend. Should any want to open later, they’ll have to show the council how they will ensure there’s no antisocial behaviour. The plan is an extension of existing strict licensing laws in Special Policy Areas (SPAs) in Dalston and Shoreditch, where venues have restricted opening hours and must make it clear to punters that antisocial behaviour isn’t tolerated.
The Labour-run council says the reason for the new policy is to curb antisocial behaviour. It reports that the locations of licensed premises correlate with certain crimes, ambulance calls and increased A&E admissions. However, the policy seems not to reflect public opinion. Seventy-three percent of the 680 respondents to a consultation about the new Hackney curfew were against the plan. (Similarly, the consultation behind the 2013 Dalston SPA found that, while 61 percent of the 2,856 respondents said they were concerned about antisocial behaviour in the borough, 84.3 percent opposed the policy.)
It’s no surprise, then, that the decision has proved unpopular with the nightlife community. There was a public protest at Hackney Town Hall last Friday, while it was declared ‘the death of nightlife in Hackney’ on social media. But is it? We asked three local venue owners and party promoters what they think.
Lyall Hakaraia, Owner of VFD
‘I don’t think this will kill nightlife in Hackney – the old venues will still be here – but I am worried about how new independent businesses will survive and what that means for marginalised communities and diversity in the area. We started as unlicensed premises running illegally ten years ago. The council were helpful at that stage about us getting our licence and have worked with us on projects ever since. Now – with new businesses facing either shorter opening hours or [paying ] lawyers’ fees to fight for a late licence – it’s only going to be big chains that can afford to open in Hackney. It’ll be businesses that have decided to cash in on “hip and cool Dalston”. Whereas those smaller people that don’t have the resources
are going to be screwed. The policy should have been more about people caring about who’s coming into the area and why they’re here. The Dalston venues that the police are called to more often than not on a Friday night are the ones making the most money from commodifying underground culture. They’re also the ones that complain most about the council not doing enough. If you’re not just there to take people’s money then get them out the door, it’s a very different dynamic.’
Kerry Maisey, owner of Ridley Road Market Bar
‘It’s an anti-youth policy. For young, independent businesses to invest in the borough, they need to know that a bar can open after midnight on a weekend. If they can’t do that, then they can’t open. You cannot afford to operate like that. We are a London Living Wage employer and we would not be open if we couldn’t run for those extra hours. We would lose at least two full-time jobs a week. So it’s also a real kick in the teeth for youth employment in Hackney, let alone everyone who actually wants to go out. Plus – really – the elephant in the room here is that most antisocial behaviour is caused outside of licensed premises. If people can’t get into premises, after 2am you’ll see people queuing to get into the places that are still open and they create noise. What that says to me is that there is actually a lack of places open later. There are ten times as many noise complaints from private premises than there are from licensed ones. Once this policy comes in, we are going to be seeing a lot more than that.’
Simon Denby, managing director at club night Percolate
‘We’re currently able to bring culture from all over the world to Hackney. I went to a night recently where it was all Uruguayan DJs. Now Hackney will potentially become quite homogenous and boring, which is a shame. It’ll be more like central Shoreditch – more bars, not necessarily attracting the best crowds. It’s going to affect us being able to use new venues. Bringing in a midnight curfew rules out any sort of nightclub. At the same time, these types of changes have happened many times over the years and people are resourceful.
It will make us look further afield. Somewhere like Tottenham Hale has lots of really cool new spaces opening up, like The Cause, Five Miles and Styx. Canning Town is another area that’s industrial but has good transport links, cheap rents and not too many neighbours. The 24-hour tube opens up areas that were previously seen as too difficult to get to. It’s still sad, though, that councils consistently don’t see nightlife as having cultural value.’
And this is what Hackney Council says:
Caroline Selman, cabinet member for community safety, policy and the voluntary sector
‘The updated policy will not affect existing businesses and is not a blanket ban on all new venues – we will consider all new applications on a case-by-case basis. The policy simply puts the onus on new applicants to demonstrate that they understand the pressures in each area and that by opening later their businesses will not have a negative impact on the area. We will support them to do this. We are committed to, and fully support, our night-time economy. The existing Special Policy Area in Shoreditch has been in place since February 2005 and, in that time, there has been an increase in the number of licensed premises – we can and have granted licences in these areas. Our approach is not unusual: there are 72 Special Policy Areas across London.’
More nightlife news? Meet London’s illegal rave kings.