When political parties are looking to make cuts, the first door they usually come knocking on is the one marked Arts & Culture, which is a travesty because no other department has a remit to support and fund facilitators of mental stimulation – innovators, entrepreneurs, creators.
Without rich heritage and diverse community, we lose the ability to inspire and be inspired, and our existence becomes more poor. And I don’t mean the kind of ‘poor’ that now makes you accountable – according to privileged cretins – for everything from the UK government’s budget deficit to the murder of six children.
Quality of life is non-measurable. While you’d like to think that bureaucrats in Edinburgh appreciate the value of a diverse, ideas-driven society, they really do have a worrying tendency to make imbecilic decisions.
It’s almost embarrassing just how little backing Edinburgh City Council provides for arts spaces outwith the Festival season. That’s the same Edinburgh City Council who are more than happy to grant public entertainment licences to sex saunas.
You could write a dissertation on the numerous venues that have had to shut down in the capital over the past decade, which is why the latest development over the banning of one individual’s House Concerts is as depressing as it is completely unsurprising.
To surmise: Douglas Robertson, along with his partner Jane-Ann Purdy, have been hosting private concerts in their sitting room for the past decade, with as many as 80 audience members cosying into their abode on the edge of Holyrood Park. Visitors are asked to donate £10 to pay the musicians, of which there have been hundreds – from the late Michael Marra to Texan folk singer Michelle Shocked and other highly respected figures in the fields of jazz, blues, Americana and classical.
Following a single complaint from a nearby resident, Edinburgh City Council’s Planning Service contacted Douglas in early November 2012 to demand he stop the concerts from the end of 2012, having deemed it unlawful for him to use a residential house as a venue.
In order to get around this, Douglas was invited to apply for a Certificate of Lawfulness (at a cost of £319), which he did, however this was rejected by the Council’s Planning Department in March 2013 with the following ‘justification':
The use of the property for the promotion and hosting of musical concerts ‘once or twice a week’ is adjudged to constitute a material change of use to a sui generis mixed use unit which would require the benefit of express planning permission, and as such a Certificate of Lawfulness cannot be granted on the basis that no material change of use has occurred. The use of the unit it its most recent capacity and intensity has not been consistent of a period in excess of ten years, and a Certificate of Lawfulness for the existing use cannot therefore be granted on these grounds.
While Douglas plans to appeal, he and Jane-Ann have been left disillusioned by the Council’s perplexing decision-making processes.
A statement on their blog read: “Our initial reaction was to damn the whole council which we now realise was ill-informed. On closer inspection the City of Edinburgh Council would seem to be a beast with two heads. On one side the intransigent, incompetent and inefficient Planning Department and, on the other side, our elected representatives whose constituents keep them in touch with reality. Most of the elected representatives support us, particularly after many of their constituents spoke warmly of our little gigs. The Council leader and his staff have tried to find solutions to the dilemma we now find ourselves in.
“We have an audience of friends and supporters willing to come and hear excellent music, and struggling performers willing to play in return for donations from the audience, while the Planning Department, who seem to answer to no one but themselves, are determined to stop this happening.
“The Planning Department had one complaint in the 10 years that we have hosted shows. We offered to address any issue whether that be the volume of the music, people chatting loudly in the street, the frequency of the gigs or whatever. We’ve had no response to that or any answer to repeated requests to let us know what they think has turned our home into a venue.
“In the absence of any guidance we have lowered the already low volume levels and asked our visitors at each gig to consider our neighbours when leaving or having a smoke outside. We also reduced the frequency of the events. For our part we intend to continue the gigs until they physically shut us down.”
Douglas has already announced his intention to find a permanent gig venue to host live music under the banner Sound House, but until then he is calling on the public to put pressure on elected officials (Council leader Andrew Burns can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweeted @AndrewDBurns) to allow them to continue at their current home at Royal Park Terrace.
The blog statement adds: “House concerts in the USA, Canada and elsewhere are an important and welcome part of the music scene. Life for musicians in the UK has become increasingly difficult with a huge reduction in CD sales and disappearing venues. We can’t allow little bureaucrats to shut down yet another avenue of potential income for people who make a valuable contribution to society.”
A council spokesperson told The Pop Cop: “We have made Mr Robertson aware of his right to appeal the decision by Planning. Separately, we continue to explore options with him in the hope of finding an alternative venue for his house concerts and a suitable venue for Sound House, his longer term ambition.”