Back in August, we reported that the application to redevelop the Backstreet site had been rejected, even though the new plans included a new space for the club in the basement. Since then, it's been a waiting game, wondering if the developer would appeal the decision, and what comes next.
Almost unnoticed, last week there was another milestone, of sorts, in the form of a response by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to the decision made in August. You can see the full details on the London Planning site here.
Essentially, on 10th October - almost two months after the meeting - Tower Hamlets wrote to inform the Mayor's office of their decision, with a follow-up email on 13th November. A report was produced, and as a result of that, the Mayor decided on the 20th of November that he was content to let the Council's decision stand, and will not take over the application.
You can probably categorise this as a win of sorts - in London it's possible for the Mayor to call in an application and make his own decision - either approving or rejecting the application - if he feels the local council got it wrong. We can now say with confidence this won't happen, though given previous public statements by the Mayor with regard to protecting nightlife venues, I think it's unlikely he'd have demanded the scheme go ahead.
I suspect that part of the reason we've not heard from the developers about whether or not they will appeal is that they were waiting to see if the Mayor of London did call in the application. Now that he hasn't, they know that the council's refusal still stands, and they can properly consider an appeal.
Whether or not they do that will depend on other factors, some of which are outlined in the report PDF. Even if they do, it will take more time, and given their commitment to give at least 12 month's notice to The Backstreet before starting work, we can say with more or less 100% confidence, we'll be celebrating New Year's Eve 2018/19 at the club, and probably some more after that.
The report to the Mayor has a useful summary of the strategic issues, and for our purposes here, the key issues regarding Backstreet are laid out:
Should the scheme be considered at appeal, or a revised application be submitted, the applicant should have regard to the outstanding issues discussed in this report with respect to night time economy (paragraphs 17 to 22), equality (paragraphs 23 to 25),
The report also summarises the Council's decision, which explains in more detail the issues some councillors raised, regarding the possibility of noise complaints from residents who might move into the building.
The proposed measures to re-provide the nightclub would be insufficient to secure the long term retention of a facility which serves the gay community. Likely noise complaints from residents of the proposed tower would be considered to present a significant risk to eventual closure of the nightclub. As such, the proposal fails to accord with policy 3.1 of the London Plan and policy DM8 of the Managing Development Document 2013 and the draft Mayor of London Culture and Night Time Economy SPD (April 2017).
It's worth noting that these proposals on culture and the night time economy weren't even drawn up at the time of the original application; they're based on a consultation that took place, about which you can read more here.
The important thing is what's know as the "Agent of Change" principle, which means that if someone puts up flats or converts something near or on top of an existing venue, the onus falls on them, as the 'agent of change' to mitigate things like noise. In other words, you can't throw up cheap flats without any soundproofing next to an existing late night club, and then act all surprised when people move in and complain about noise, and get the club shut down. As the flats are the agent of change, they should incorporate adequate sound proofing in their design, rather than put the burden on the club to do so, or to be quieter.
So, this point is increasingly important, and in paragraph 21 it's stated that the Greater London Authority would require any planning permission that's eventually granted to make sure that there is sufficient insulation, and a plan for customer dispersal - a point that was also touched on at the meeting.
In effect, you can take this is as fairly strongly worded reminder - that the Mayor's office does not want to see The Backstreet "set up to fail" by being moved into a new venue, and then subjected to complaints from the neighbours.
It's also worth noting, in passing, paragraph 17 of the report, which says in full
“The Backstreet” nightclub is operating from a basement at the site. The Backstreet is an LGBT+ venue which is understood to have been operating for 32 years, and has an international membership of some 6,000 people. The venue, informally known as ‘London’s Leather Bar’, operates a strict dress code which has led to it establishing a unique reputation in the capital as a valued nightclub and social facility for a distinct part of the gay community.
So, clearly we have got the club on the radar - and on a personal note it's nice to see the tag line "London's Leather Bar," which was originally coined at BLUF HQ, find its way into an official GLA report.
We're back to the waiting game, I'm afraid. The ball is pretty firmly in the developer's court now, as to whether or not they want to appeal the decision, or to submit a new application.
Whichever they try, it does at least seem from the GLA report and the Mayor's decision that protecting the club, and making sure that it's not at immediate risk from new neighbours complaining, is going to be a key factor in whether or not redevelopment happens.