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Sadiq Khan and Pauline Forster
Photograph: Tom Broadbent

Oi, Sadiq! What are you doing to save London’s music venues?

Pauline Forster, owner of legendary venue The George Tavern, quizzes the Mayor on protecting London's music spaces

By James Manning

This year we’re giving some of our favourite Londoners the chance to put one big question to the Mayor. Artist Pauline Forster is the landlady of legendary Stepney boozer and music venue The George Tavern, and has been striving for more than a decade to keep her pub a space for creativity. But as her question for Sadiq Khan reveals, running an independent venue in London brings many challenges…

Pauline ‘Oi, Sadiq! The George Tavern was recently saved from potential noise complaints by a “deed of easement”, partly thanks to support from City Hall. But the biggest threat to live grassroots music venues in London is financial: the spiralling rents and rates we have to pay to stay open. What are you doing to protect grassroots music venues?’

Sadiq ‘Well, your pub was one of the reasons we changed the rules to protect cultural venues from developments that will bring in new neighbours. Developers have got to know that if there’s a pub or a cultural venue there, they have to keep it. And if they do have to build on that site, they’ve got to replace it like-for-like.’

Pauline ‘But financially, we don’t get discounts on our business rates like cultural venues do. We need your team to push local authorities to keep those rates down for grassroots music venues. The overheads of keeping a pub open are really difficult.’

Sadiq ‘We’ve got no control over rents or business rates, but I am saying to councils that they should be providing pubs with business-rates relief. We’ve also changed the planning laws so a pub can’t be sold to become luxury flats: it has to stay a pub, because it’s part of our heritage and a community hub.’

Pauline ‘We also now have to pay a “Late Night Levy” every year for policing,  because we’re open late. We’re being blamed for antisocial behaviour on the streets. And to keep our licence, we have to pay for three security guards!’

Sadiq ‘I was surprised to learn how little small pubs earn, compared to big ones. The number of bigger pubs has gone up a bit, but the number of smaller pubs has been going down.’

Mayor Sadiq Khan and Pauline Forster

‘Legal battles are very expensive too. I’ve been fighting developers for 12 years. Now I’m trying to save the old Stepney’s Night Club next door, which has a light-up dance floor! That’s my next battle, and I’ll need your support.’

Sadiq ‘We’re more than happy to help. But when do you sleep?!’

Pauline ‘Not very often – I live above the pub!’

Know an amazing Londoner who deserves a chat with the Mayor? Let us know!

The essential guide to music in London


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