Night mayors: building bridges between businesses and communities

We’ve previously written about the importance of the night-time economy as a driver of tourism, leisure and business growth in towns and cities. And we’ve also blogged about the challenges facing night-time industries, notably the number of nightclubs forced to close due to economic factors and security concerns.

A growing number of city authorities are responding to these developments, and exploring new ways of meeting the distinctive economic development, public safety and quality of life demands presented by cities after dark.

The pros and cons of the after-hours economy

The UK night-time economy is substantial. One estimate has put its value at £66bn, employing 1.3m people. In London, an already thriving after-hours economy is set to grow by a further £77m a year following this year’s launch of the 24-hour Tube on the Victoria, Central and Piccadilly lines.

But a city’s nightlife is about more than commerce. Noise, violence and other forms of anti-social behaviour can upset nearby residents, and put people off living in or visiting a city.

Some authorities have taken a hard line towards areas with a reputation for trouble at night. The New South Wales government has introduced laws to crack down on drug and alcohol-fuelled violence in parts of Sydney. But, while the new rules – including 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks at nightclubs – have reduced street crime, their impact on Sydney’s night-time economy has been devastating. More than 100 venues have closed, and the once booming entertainment district of King’s Cross is now being described as a ghost town.

Night mayors: bridging the divide

There’s a balance to be struck between protecting communities from anti-social behaviour and enabling a dynamic night-time economy to flourish. One idea for bridging these competing interests is the appointment of an individual dedicated to the needs of the city after dark.

Shortly after the Night Tube started operations, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced plans to appoint a “Night Czar”. The role of this new figure will be to engage with night-time businesses, residents and public authorities, and to create a “vision for London as a 24-hour city”. And on 4 November it was confirmed that the new Night Czar would be the writer, broadcaster, DJ, performer and campaigner Amy Lamé.

London is following a trend set by other cities that have recognised the need for a distinct approach to their after-hours economies. In 2014, Marik Milan was elected Amsterdam’s first night mayor. Previously a nightclub promoter, Milan leads a non-profit foundation funded jointly by the city council and the business community.

One of his early successes has been helping to establish 24-hour licences for selected nightclubs on the outskirts of Amsterdam. It’s hoped that the relaxation of licensing laws will help to relieve the pressure on the city centre, while regenerating pockets of the city lacking both daytime and night-time offerings. And, given that most problems happen when clubs are opening or closing, the 24-hour approach may also lower the chances of disturbances.

Marik Milan also wants to bring some of the positive lessons from music festivals into the centre of Amsterdam. He’s suggested that the presence of stewards, trained in how to de-escalate situations and report incidents, could make for a safer city, especially at weekends.

Milan believes his approach, in contrast to that adopted in Sydney, is more likely to bring positive results:

“Cities are always interested in solutions, but if they keep treating night life as a problem, they’ll keep having the same outcome.”

An idea whose time has come?

The successful deployment of night mayors in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities has prompted municipalities around the world to consider, and in some cases, to copy their example. In France, night mayors have been elected in Paris, Toulouse and Nantes, and they are also to be seen in Zurich and most recently in the Colombian city of Cali. Similar posts have been proposed for cities such as Berlin, Dublin, Toronto and New York.

Earlier this year, Amsterdam hosted the first Night Mayors Summit, at which city representatives could combine knowledge and share experiences on their night-time economies. This short film, from Monocle magazine, reports on the summit, and explains how the cities of Amsterdam, Berlin, Tokyo and Sao Paulo are exploring creative approaches to managing the night-time economy.

It remains to be seen whether London’s new night czar can win the support of local communities while championing the capital’s night time culture. But the experience of Amsterdam suggests that it’s an idea worth exploring.

If you’ve enjoyed his blog post, you might also like our other posts on the night-time economy


Sound advice on noise nuisance: how local authorities are helping residents tackle noisy neighbours

By James Carson

Last year, a survey for Churchill Home Insurance reported that in the first nine months of 2013 nearly 500,000 complaints had been made to UK local authorities. By far the biggest single issue concerned noisy neighbours. Loud voices and arguing, loud music or television, and doors slamming were among the greatest annoyances.

The impact and cost of noise

On the face of it, noise from a neighbouring property might not appear as serious as other types of anti-social behaviour, such as physical assault or vandalism. But the effects of undesired noise on the quality of life, health and wellbeing of individuals can be severe and enduring.

Among the risks of intrusive noise identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) are:

  • altered behaviour (such as aggression or feelings of helplessness)
  • sleep disturbance
  • cardiovascular effects
  • reduced academic and professional performance.

A recent report by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment underlined the health effects of neighbour noise, finding “surprisingly widespread health effects of residential noise annoyance, with neighbour noise relatively more damaging than street noise.”

For local authorities, tackling noisy neighbours is one of the most challenging aspects of their work. Unlike traffic or airport noise, neighbour noise can be unpredictable and difficult to measure.

Dealing with noise complaints also imposes substantial costs on local councils. A 2012 Defra report found that:

  • it takes local authority environmental health departments in England between 3 and 5 hours, on average, to negotiate the complaints procedure
  • the cost of each complaint investigation is estimated to be between £130 and £270 per complaint
  • a convoluted incident requiring significant council input was estimated to cost between £3,400 and £6,810.

Addressing nuisance noise

Most councils advise residents to try to resolve noise nuisance by talking to their neighbours about the problem. Mediation may also be an option. Brighton and Hove Council is one of a number of local authorities offering an independent mediation service to help resolve disputes between neighbours. The service reports that 80% of cases that go to mediation are successful.

If these attempts fail, most local authorities, such as Dartford Borough Council have teams dedicated to tackling antisocial behaviour, and some, such as East Lothian Council, employ teams specifically targeting noise nuisance. Westminster City Council has gone further by developing a comprehensive noise strategy and setting up a 24-hour noise team.

Where evidence is obtained, local authority officers have the power to issue a warning notice. If this is ignored, the local authority or the police may issue a £100 fixed penalty notice, and may also take steps to seize and remove noise-making equipment.

Some individuals may resort to legal action in a Magistrate’s Court (the Sheriff Court in Scotland), using Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.  To be successful, claimants need to persuade the court that the noise is a ‘statutory nuisance’, having a substantial and negative affect on their home life. If the action is successful, the court will give the offending neighbour a noise abatement order and may also impose a fine. However, taking this route may be expensive, and there is no guarantee of success.

Obtaining evidence of domestic noise can be difficult, especially if the noise is intermittent, or neighbours become aware that a noise team is in the vicinity. To counter this, some councils are turning to technology.

Newham Council, in East London, receives around 155 noise complaints each week. To support its efforts in tackling noise nuisance, the council has been using noise nuisance recorders. These portable machines may be left in a complainant’s home to record noise levels over a 7-10 day period, and can help determine whether they constitute a statutory nuisance. The machines have also been adopted by councils in Hull and Wakefield. However, many local authorities continue to maintain that noise nuisance must be witnessed by enforcement officers if further action is to be taken.

A higher volume of complaints

Noise is a fact of modern life, especially within higher-density urban areas, but there are signs that people are becoming less tolerant of noise pollution. Which means that hard-pressed local authorities are likely to face increasing numbers of complaints about noisy neighbours from residents unwilling to suffer in silence.


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Further reading*

Noisy neighbours (guidance for noise impact assessments)

Anti-social neighbours in private housing (House of Commons Library standard note SN01012)

New sense on nuisance? (nuisance claims)

More effective responses to anti-social behaviour

The Dutch residential nuisance scale: an outcome measure for reported nuisance in subgroup analysis

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Troubled families approach expands … but is the evidence there?

paper family on handBy Dorothy Laing

Nobody likes the idea of experiencing antisocial behaviour on their doorsteps so further government action to help ‘troubled families’ will almost certainly be welcomed by neighbours and local communities alike.

On 19th August, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced an extension of the Troubled Families Programme, as findings from independent research carried out for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) – National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme interim report family monitoring data: a report by Ecorys UK and Understanding Troubled Families – revealed the current state of progress. Continue reading