Protesters today filled the public square outside Hackney Town Hall in East London, protesting the newly-passed legislation which is said to be threatening the area’s iconic nightlife.
The new policy will see any new bars, clubs and restaurants in the East London area subjected to an automatic 11PM curfew on weekdays, and a 12AM curfew on weekends, unless they can prove they are “responsible” and will not have a “negative impact on the area” if they stay open later than the curfew.
Hackney is home to a number of venues, bars and clubs which are essential to London’s nightlife and music scene, including Dalston Superstore, Birthdays, Oslo, Hackney Showroom, Moth Club, The Shacklewell Arms and Brilliant Corners.
The protest, which began at midday, saw speakers from the local community addressing the amassed crowds, citing the area’s impressive cultural history and the local council’s short-sighted decision-making – with many claiming councillors had ignored great public opposition, and doubted the respondents’ accuracy as representatives of Hackney.
NME headed down and spoke with one of the day’s organisers, a local resident named Jonny Dillon, who assembled the protest with a handful of friends after hearing of the new legislation.
What’s the aim with today’s protest?
The aim for today was to get out, in numbers, people that are a) opposed to the council’s licensing regulations, and b) actively support the vibrant, diverse and creative nightlife that we have here in Hackney. The council have not only enacted this new policy which is going to damage the diversity and vibrancy of that nightlife scene by really hitting the small, independent businesses hard, but also the marginalised communities that those venues, bars and clubs support and give space to, but they did all of this despite massive public opposition. 75% responded overall negatively; 84% of people were opposed to the core hour curfews. We’re here today to say, ‘We’re against these changes, support Hackney nightlife, and you can ignore us and enact them, but we won’t stop shouting about it.’
The public opinion was very much the opposite of what got passed. Do you feel like you just got ignored?
Yeah – the conversation as overwhelmingly against the proposed plans. The council have basically said, ‘Yeah, as a numbers game, people are opposed to this – but we haven’t collected enough qualitative data, so we don’t know why. So we’re just going to ignore it!’ I think that’s a really feeble excuse – if you don’t feel like you’ve got enough data, collect some more!
This council is such a safe seat – all these people were re-elected to their seats after the consultation took place, and then they’re turned around and ignored the people who voted them in, and passed this in spite of the fact that the vast majority of Hackney residents didn’t want this to go through.
What impact do you see this legislation having?
Like I said, I think it’ll be small, independent businesses that bear the brunt of this. It’s just going to make Hackney such an unattractive place to open a small venue. But also, almost impossible! In Shoreditch, for example, they’re doubling the size of the special policy area, which makes it really difficult to obtain a late license. Small venues are closing, which we’re seeing all over London and all over the country, all the time. Who’s going to replace them? It’s not going to be somebody with an innovative, new idea, that’s from the community; it’s going to be big, corporate chains – Tiger Tiger, All Bar One, and Shoreditch is going to turn in Leicester Square. Dalston and Hackney and Clapton are going to lose all the spirit that makes Hackney such a good night out.
These places have been integral for marginalised groups. Do you think that’s going to have an adverse effect on them?
We’re seeing pubs and clubs – for the LGBTQ community, and the BME community, and spaces for women – close all the time. Hackney is one of the few places where those still exist in number. That’s really important, because Hackney is a really diverse community, and it’s really important that the needs of the community are met. If those spaces are to start to close, new ones aren’t going to open. There’s not going to be anything for those communities, who are often the people who most need to escape and have a night out, and have a place where they can be around people that share their experiences in somewhere that is safe and fun and inclusive. I think that is really being put at risk by the proposal that Hackney Council have just passed.
18 months ago we had a Night Czar appointed who was supposed to be tackling these sort of issues. How does her role look from your perspective?
I can definitely agree that she’s dropped the ball on this. She asked Philip Glanville, the Mayor Of Hackney, for a meeting after the regulations were already passed – that’s too late in the day. But I think what this has really shown are the holes in that role. She hasn’t got the power to really affect change here, and actually whilst a lot of fingers have been pointed at her, I think that is quite reactionary. It’s the council and the licencing committee that have pushed this through.
Philip Glanville said earlier today in The Guardian that the legislation was put in place to protect the infrastructure of Hackney – he cited a lot of ‘vomit and urine in the streets’. Do you feel he’s taken into consideration the wider cultural impact these measures could have?
I think, if that is the real reason, this is incredibly heavy-handed and naïve. Imposing a blanket closing time on all new venues will put more people in the street at the same time. It’ll mean that there’s more antisocial behaviour, more noise, more litter. People aren’t gonna want to go home at 11 or 12! People are going to be drinking on the streets, people are going to be having house parties. I, personally, don’t believe that that’s a valid reason to have done this. I also don’t think that the problem is that bad – I live just off [Dalston high street] Kingsland Road, and I don’t have the noise. Yeah, there’s litter, but it’s no worse than it is anywhere else in Hackney – it’s certainly no worse than it is up and down Ridley Road every day after the market, and no-one’s suggesting we close that. Not that I would – I think the market is incredibly important, but I think nightlife’s important too.