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Planning day and night: why the night time economy matters

The night time economy is increasingly being recognised as a driver of economic growth, but for it to succeed a broad range of professionals need to cultivate it. Whether you work in planning, health, economics, transport, the arts or property – the night time economy can no longer be an afterthought. 

It's not just about pubs and clubs

The night time economy is worth 6% of UK gross domestic product or £66 billion annually, according to figures from the Night Time Industries Association. 

In 2017, the night time economy started to get the attention it deserves - London appointed its first ever ‘night tsar’ (Amy Lamé), the Royal Vauxhall Tavern received important planning protections, and the Tube got up and running through the small hours. It featured at a range of our events, including last year’s RTPI Planning Convention and Planning Out’s birthday celebrations. Plus we’ve raised its profile through The Planner.

But planning for it hasn’t always been well thought through. Many cultural venues are rapidly disappearing. Across the UK, 44% of night clubs shut between 2005 and 2015 and 25% of pubs closed from 2001 to 2016. The reasons for these declines are varied.

The night time economy is worth 6% of UK gross domestic product or £66 billion annually, according to figures from the Night Time Industries Association. 

And it is not just about ‘pubs and clubs’ but about the broader night time economy. Deliveries, as Amy Lamé pointed out, are the largest employer of the night economy, while the opening of the Night Tube provided a £170 million boost to London with a further expansion of services this year.

Planning's role

Planning has a key role to play in ensuring a thriving night time economy. For a start, having a pub, club or other cultural venue designated as an asset of community value would help protect the venue’s use from future development. 

S106 agreements - the contributions developers make to local infrastructure and services - could be a way of funding new venues and facilities. A pub in East London, the Joiners Arms, was to be redeveloped into housing until City Hall intervened to negotiate a provision for a LGBT cultural space in the new development. 

New regulation

The 'agent of change ‘regulation, already in force in Wales and shortly in Scotland, ensures new developments take account of all existing uses. The House of Commons recently approved a bill to enact this regulation in England and the London Mayor has promised for it to be included in the next London Plan.  

It means new developments will have to consider how they can peacefully co-exist alongside existing night venues, helping to put a stop to residents in new residential developments complaining about noise from existing venues and potentially closing them down.

Culture and night time economy

Embedding a strategy to promote culture in Local Plans and Town Centre Strategies can also make a difference to the success of an area's night economy. These plans, while implemented and written by planners, require political vision and leadership to be successful. The recently released draft London Plan contains, for the first time, a section for culture and heritage in addition to City Hall’s existing Supplementary Planning Guidance on culture and the night time economy.

Tackling negative perceptions

But planning is only part of the story. Night time activities are often perceived negatively by residents.  Amy Lamé sees a large part of her role as ‘myth busting. Noise and crime are the two most common concerns raised with her, to which she responds saying the biggest noise complaints received are from neighbours (complaining about each other), and that overall crime rate is down. Only 4% of crimes happen on the Night Tube, according to British Transport Police.

City Hall is also using their ‘convening powers’ to bring local government, police, residents and business owners together to break down prevailing negative attitudes and build momentum around a shared vision for a vibrant, 24-hour London.

In 2018, the night economy is only going to grow in importance as places look to replace struggling retail strips with a mix of restaurants, bars and cultural venues. In London, the night economy is set to grow by £2 billion over the next two years. Manchester, New York and Paris are all considering appointing night tsars.

Now is the time to think about how your profession can contribute to ensuring a thriving night time economy that works for everyone.

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