The Live Music Forum


Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Wednesday 15th April 2009 - Derelict shops to become rehearsal venues

Run-down high streets could be revived by turning derelict shops into rehearsal venues, according to Communities Secretary Hazel Blears.

The idea was raised yesterday, Tue 14 April 2009, during the launch of a £3m government package for high streets hit by the credit crunch. See BBC online:

also Channel 4 news (includes video):

On a walkabout promoting the initiative in Stockport, Ms Blears was accompanied by Culture Secretary Andy Burnham and Feargal Sharkey, Chief Executive of UK Music (mistakenly called a 'cultural ambassador' in the Channel 4 piece).

Curiously, Sharkey's attendance was not mentioned in the press release issued yesterday by the Department for Communities Schools and Families, although it was flagged in email briefings sent by the department to select journalists on 13 April.

DCSF press release:

Joint DCSF/DCMS guidance for the project, entitled 'Looking After Town Centres', enthuses about the 150 or so local authorities (about a third of the total) that have already licensed some public spaces for entertainment and where local musicians won't need to apply for a licence to perform, only 'permission' from the council. It continues in upbeat mode: 'Beaches, high streets, market squares, village greens or community centres, and with a bit of imagination, any space, whether indoors or outdoors, can be transformed into live music or performance venues.' (see pages 21 and 22)

In fact private spaces like derelict shops are not covered by local authority public space licences for entertainment. To become performance spaces, owners or landlords would have to apply for a premises licence for each shop costing £300-600, plus the cost of 28 days notice in the local press, plus possible extra cost if local objections lead to a public hearing and onerous licence conditions.

Despite the joint DCSF/DCMS authorship, the town centre guidance made no connection with an obviously relevant government announcement of December 2007 to invest £500k in new rehearsal spaces - a project that Feargal Sharkey was to oversee:

In Parliament, culture minister Margaret Hodge reinforced the message:

'The Government recognise the importance of young, developing musicians having access to affordable and professional facilities to rehearse and perform live music. That is why, following a recommendation by the Live Music Forum, we recently asked Feargal Sharkey, the ex-chair of the Forum, to work with local authorities, the music industry and other partners over the next two years to establish a number of pilot music rehearsal spaces across the country. £500,000 has been allocated to assist with the cost of setting up these pilots. In the longer term, we will continue to explore what other funding streams may be available for this purpose, such as our proposed unclaimed assets scheme. As part of this initiative, my officials have spoken to representatives of the British phonographic industry, the Association of Independent Music and Sony BMG Music Entertainment (UK) who have agreed to assist.'
[Reply by Culture minister Margaret Hodge to question by David Amess MP, 14 January 2008]

But according to a former member of the Live Music Forum, who wished to remain anonymous, this money has yet to be spent: 'I am extremely disappointed that two years after the [Live Music Forum] report was delivered nothing seems to have been actioned, in particular the recognition of the need for rehearsal spaces. It's really disappointing that after they launched the rehearsal facilities in Wrexham [donated by Wrexham council in 2006], that seems to have been the token effort to address the problem. There seems to be no visible evidence of the £500k allocated by DCMS having been spent on the provision of these rehearsal spaces.'


Hamish Birchall