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Sadiq Khan: ‘London will become a dormitory city unless we protect cultural spaces’

Sadiq Khan at the London Borough of Culture launch Sadiq Khan at the London Borough of Culture launch
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London mayor Sadiq Khan has warned the capital risks becoming a “dormitory” city unless more is done to protect cultural buildings from housing developers.

Khan said once arts venues close, they are “gone forever”, and the rate at which London is losing live music spaces should be a “concern for all of us”.

His comments follow recent calls from industry figures, including Nimax Theatres chief executive Nica Burns, for more robust planning laws to protect theatres from the threat of residents in new nearby developments complaining about noise.

A consultation is being carried out by the government on proposals to update the National Planning Policy Framework to include an ‘agent of change’ principle – whereby the onus is placed on developers to ensure new buildings are soundproofed from any noise from existing venues, rather than the venue potentially being held responsible.

Khan has also promised to include the agent of change principle in his new London plan.

Speaking at the launch of his cultural strategy at Battersea Arts Centre in London, Khan said: “Once these things are gone – arts centres, live music venues, they’re gone forever, they’re not going to come back.

“But we’re also making sure the new generation of developments think about having theatres, community spaces, pubs, because what we don’t want is a dormitory city. So it’s keeping what we have, but also making sure that new developments have this recognition that a good community has good places to live, work and play.”

He added: “From 2008 to 2016, roughly speaking, half of the live music venues in London closed down, that should be a source for concern for all of us.”

Khan explained that he was aware of cultural venues having been threatened with closure after developments were built next door to them, leading residents to complain about noise, and the venues unable to afford to pay for sound insulation.

Additionally, Khan said, landlords were realising they could sell theatres or music venues to developers and make “much more money” by turning them into luxury flats than from the keeping them as cultural spaces.

“If you want to build homes next door, then you should insulate your homes and make sure residents aren’t inconvenienced, but also, using planning [rules], if you want to change the use of a theatre or live music venue to luxury flats, there’s got to be a very good reason to do so,” he said.

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