Social Sec Sorcha Hornett reviews Tom Odell's enjoyable and energetic recent stop at Birmingham's O2 AcademyWritten by Sorcha Hornett on 14th January 2019
Blackbox Closure & the Agent of Change Principal
In light of recent events, Nathan Davies walks us through the troubled history of The Rainbow Pub and Blackbox and explains the recent closure's impacts on Birmingham
Precisely one fortnight after reopening its doors, a statement released Saturday 27th October announced that the Blackbox would, once again, be closing. Unbeknownst to its operators, a three-bedroom holiday let had been developed next door to the venue, with a number of noise complaints having already been raised to the landlord by its residents. Currently, a single registered complaint from neighbours can trigger a license review, as such the operators have preemptively closed the venue so as to avoid losing their license whilst remaining locked into a long-term lease.
“The Victorian venue had long been a bohemian hotspot on Digbeth high street before the condemning of its courtyard in 2005 prompted Lee McDonald to take it over
A noise abatement notice received in 2009 from the residents of newly built flats nearby posed The Rainbow Pub’s next obstacle, in circumstances not dissimilar to recent events. The ‘Save The Rainbow’ campaign this prompted quickly gathered momentum, with its Facebook group reaching 22,000 members within 10 days, and the BBC even doing a live broadcast from within the pub. In order to continue operating, a £30,000 insulating roof had to be installed over the Courtyard, the cost of which being partially raised by an event staged by Birmingham natives UB40. Having successfully handled the complication, the operators pushed on, converting the Cellar into an additional space in 2012. However, following this, a violent incident involving security staff in 2015 provoked an expedited review and temporary loss of the site’s license.
Finally, on May 28th 2017 the venue shut its doors as The Rainbow pub for good, as its operators sought to concentrate their efforts into the many sites it had spawned around the corner on Lower Trinity Street. Somewhat ironically, plans to further develop The Rainbow Arena, The Rainbow Warehouse, Blackbox, Roof Garden, Spotlight and Mama Roux were cut short later that year when many of these venues had their license revoked.
“The 350-capacity, dark, intimate setting of the Courtyard was the ideal candidate to rehouse the now-displaced Blackbox
The comments section below the closing statement released by the Blackbox is littered with both those venting frustration at the operators and those lamenting another loss to Digbeth’s nightlife. Certain other comments see Birmingham council labelled as unsympathetic at best, or at worst, involved in a wider scheme of gentrification within Digbeth, ushering out the elements interfering with this, a notion already proposed in relation to other high-profile closures in the area. Sensationalist or not, the situation certainly does pose some interesting questions. Despite a much larger backlash following the revocation of The Rainbow Venues’ license in late 2017, and the wider conversation surrounding the appropriateness of this course of action, the deaths prompting this were undeniably tragic. However, the differing circumstances of the Blackbox’s closure brings to the fore ongoing debates regarding British nightlife, particularly the ‘agent of change principle’.
“The ‘agent of change principle’ essentially shifts the burden of responsibility to the incoming party
This principle was a key pillar within the manifesto of the 2016 ‘Night Life Matters’ campaign launched by the Night Time Industries Association, a body representing ‘independent bar, nightclub and restaurant owners, pubs, festival and live music event operators'. Supported by the Housing White Paper ‘Fixing our Broken Housing Market’ published in February 2017, in April the House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003 recommended 'that a full 'Agent of Change' principle be adopted in both planning and licensing guidance to help protect both licensed premises and local residents from consequences arising from any new built development in their nearby vicinity. (Paragraph 553)', with its chairman recognising both the rights of residents, as well as the need to support businesses and prevent the decline in night-life.
“Finders Keepers and, by extension, the Blackbox might be considered the incoming agent of change
I cannot claim to understand the finer details of the new framework; it may well be that under its new lease, Finders Keepers and, by extension, the Blackbox might be considered the incoming agent of change. It may also be the case that, after bearing witness to the ultimately doomed legal struggles of The Rainbow Venues earlier in the year, its owners wished to avoid a similar ordeal. Regardless, operators obviously felt it necessary to take action before the matter was beyond their control. Unfortunately, this would appear indicative of a continued oppressive licensing environment and does not bode well for new venues looking to set up in the area. For now, the long-standing venue continues on in a limited capacity, whilst the Blackbox finds itself, once again, without a home.